Monday, April 29, 2024

“Why I Trust the New Testament Is What God Wrote”: Contend 2024


Over the weekend, I spoke for one of the break-out sessions at Contend—an apologetics conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that is geared for high school students. The title of my presentation was "Why I Trust the New Testament is What God Wrote," and that title was intentional. The talk wasn't so much to convince anybody that we do really have God's words as it was rather to tell them why I believe we do really have God's words.

My talk was based on what I presented a while back at the church where I was ordained. That itself was an interesting situation—it is a TR church that has always used the KJV or NKJV, but they also recognize that it's not an issue worth dividing over and consider other translations to be sufficient as well. My impression of the rationale at that church has always been that it was an unstated trust that TR translations are 'safe' in that God has obviously blessed their use, and since that's what the pastors typically used, they just stayed with it because there are more important things than becoming experts in textual criticism just to be sure that you have the best Bible when you already have a Bible that's not only good but perfectly sufficient. But they knew my position and actually asked me to speak about why we can trust the Bible. It was an interesting task to try to do that in a way that doesn't undermine the KJV/NKJV on the one hand or modern translations on the other (because plenty of people beyond myself at that church used translations like the ESV and LSB).

It may not be helpful to anyone, but in case it is, I wanted to post some of my slides from those two talks and give a few main points here.

1. Dunning and Kruger

I began (at the church; unfortunately this part had to be cut for Contend because I didn't have as much time) with explaining the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is named after the authors who described it in this 1999 article, and which Tom Nichols wrote about in his excellent book, The Death of Expertise (which should be required reading for anyone engaging in the TR/KJV issue). In short, when we first start to learn something, we don't know enough to know what we don't know, then there comes a time when we realize how much we don't know (and that can be unsettling), and finally, if we stick with it, we achieve competence. On a chart, these three phases are sometimes called Mount Stupid, the Valley of Despair, and the Plateau of Sustainability (I didn't come up with those names, but they fit). My casual observation is that a lot of the people who 'go wrong' when it comes to manuscripts and textual criticism do so because they get hurt falling from Mount Stupid into the Valley of Despair, so to avoid living in that pain, they climb back up Mount Stupid and build a fortress there. It's not the mountain that hurts, it's the fall. Basil Manly Jr. [The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration Explained and Vindicated] even observed this phenomenon in 1888.

2. Examples of Uncertainties

In the talk I did give a very brief "We have over 5,000 manuscripts" section, but I figure that most people who are coming to an SBC seminary for an apologetics event probably already have a baseline of belief in the Scriptures, so that part wasn't very long. It's probably what they came to hear though; sorry for the disappointment! I think it might be more helpful to dive right in to the uncomfortable part—uncertainties. Nobody likes to be uncertain about God's Word, but because of how God has acted in history, somebody has to sort out the differences among manuscripts, and if we are concerned about this, then we should have an accurate picture of what that looks like and what the degree of uncertainty actually is.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Two items from Erasmus on Stunica


I've been reading through vol. 74 of the Collected Works of Erasmus series—Erasmus' controversies with Stunica—Diego López de Zúñiga, if you prefer (not to be confused with the other Diego López de Zúñiga. Zúñiga was the main editor behind the Complutensian Polyglot and was therefore one of the more qualified of Erasmus' many critics. Still, Erasmus took issue with Zúñiga, including the way he went about his criticisms. I always enjoy reading the writings of my second-favorite Dutch textual critic who worked in Cambridge, and I found these words from his Apologia Against Zúñiga to be interesting:

Collected Works of Erasmus vol. 74, p. 245

"This man put the extracts on display once and for all in the most invidious way he could, omitting the material that softened their sharpness, and adding violent and even meaningless titles to exacerbate their effect."

Evidently, Zúñiga was circulating quotes from Erasmus' writings taken out of context—he had conveniently left out the parts where Erasmus qualified what he said to make it less severe. You can definitely get more mileage out of a quote that way, but it's simply not honest to leave out the parts that contradict the narrative you are trying to spin. As I read on, I chuckled at what Erasmus said a few pages later about Zúñiga (in the context of his responses to Erasmus' broad criticisms of abusive clergy who were not acting like Christians): "And he is an unhappy advocate if he cannot protect the honour of others except by speaking ill of me, which a pimp could do just as well."


To shift gears, we also see this interesting comment a few pages later: "Or is it a falsehood that I say that some passages have been added? That is incontrovertibly the case at the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, to say nothing of other places" (p. 258).

Zúñiga evidently (by what I infer from Erasmus' response) didn't like that Erasmus admitted that it's difficult not to come to the conclusion that there are places in the New Testament textual tradition where something has been added. Erasmus appeals to the doxology of the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:13). I find this interesting for two reasons:

1. Despite that he says that it is "incontrovertibly the case" that the doxology is not original, Erasmus did include it in his Greek text. However, he clearly doesn't think it's original, he says as much, and elsewhere, his Paraphrase leaves out the doxology.

2. Erasmus' appeal to the Lord's Prayer is especially clever. Zúñiga was over the Complutensian Polyglot, which leaves out the doxology to the Lord's Prayer and has a rare marginal note about how it is added in the Greek copies. While it seems that Zúñiga was not the author (or at least not the principal author) of this marginal note, it's still the case that he was in charge of an edition that left out the doxology and casts doubts on its authenticity. Jerry Bentley writes, concerning the marginal note in the Complutensian Polyglot: 

"In only one note does a peculiar observation suggest its author. This is the note to Mt. 6:13 (quoted above), which discusses the authenticity of a clause found in many Greek texts, but not in the Vulgate: "for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen." The note casts doubt on the authenticity of this clause : the author suggests that the clause crept into Greek New Testament manuscripts by way of the Greek mass, where it forms part of the liturgy. The note obviously bears the mark of the Cretan Demetrius Ducas, no doubt the only member of the Complutensian team familiar enough with the Greek liturgy to have made such precise points about it. This is not necessarily to say that Ducas prepared all the annotations, for the note to Mt. 6:13 is by no means representative of all the rest. We may be fairly sure we see Ducas' influence in this note, though we must not jump to the conclusion that he was sole author of the annotations." ("New Light on the Editing of the Complutensian New Testament," Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 42.1 (1980): 154–155).

The textually-missing/marginally-present doxology and beginning of the note in the Complutensian Polyglot (page 2069 here).

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Resources for Reading Greek Minuscule


Over at the Text & Canon Institute website, Clark Bates has put together a helpful list of resources for dealing with Greek abbreviations, contractions, and ligatures. It should be especially useful to students just getting started reading manuscripts. Along with Amy Anderson's article on the benefits of reading Greek manuscripts, it would be great for introducing students to manuscripts.

Ligatures galore in GA 1969, f. 125r!

Monday, April 01, 2024

Gospel of Mark in Herculaneum!


Since Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger won the Vesuvius
, we've seen more and more of the carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum identified and read. The Herculaneum Papyri have a firm terminus ante quem of A.D. 79—the date of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

The latest identification was very unexpected—a copy of Mark's Gospel from the A.D. 70s at the absolute latest! I can't wait to find out of there's enough to tell if it contains Mark 16:9–20 yet so we can know if those verses are in the Bible or not.

Read more about it here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Court Rules that Obbink Owes Hobby Lobby $7m


The news is out that the civil case between Hobby Lobby and Dirk Obbink has been decided. The ruling is a “default judgment” in favor of Hobby Lobby for an incredible $7,085,100 plus interest. (A default judgment means that the defendant never showed up to court.) Keep in mind, this is a civil case not a criminal case. Over at the Art Crime blog, Lynda Albertson gives this list of transactions between Hobby Lobby and Obbink.

  • Purchase #1 - February 6, 2010: Papyri fragments for $80,000
  • Purchase #2 - February 15, 2011: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $500,000
  • Purchase #3 - July 22, 2010: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $350,000
  • Purchase #4 - November 20, 2010: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $2,400,000
  • Purchase #5 - July 20, 2011: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $1,345,500
  • Purchase #6 - March 7, 2012: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $609,600
  • Purchase #7 - February 5, 2013: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $1,810,000
As she says, “Obbink had represented to Hobby Lobby that the 32 items he was selling came from private collectors.” I do not know which of these seven purchases was supposed to include the best-known papyrus, the first-century Mark fragment. Maybe one of our readers does?

The most unfathomable thing to me about this whole mess is still how Obbink thought he could get away with it. How does one expect to steal 32 papyri from one’s employer, sell them for millions of dollars to a very in-the-spotlight organization, and expect no one to notice? It boggles the mind.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Doctoral and Post-doctoral Opportunities in Leuven


Good news out of Belgium: 

KU Leuven, Belgium, offers 2 full-time post-doctoral and 3 PhD positions for suitably qualified candidates to form part of the research team of the Leuven Multilingual Manuscript Research Centre (LEMMA).

Further information about each position and application details can be obtained through the following links. The deadline for applications is 7th May 2024.

3 positions on the European Research Council (Horizon Europe) funded ERC-2021-COG BICROSS project ( to investigate the significance of bilingual manuscripts for detecting cross-language interaction in the New Testament Tradition. The interdisciplinary project studies bilingual New Testament manuscripts from the 4th century to the 15th century.

2 positions on the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) funded Odysseus (Type I) 1COR project (www.1cor.netto investigate the text, transmission and translation of 1 Corinthians in the first millennium. The project’s main goal is to produce full scholarly editions and textual analyses of 1 Corinthians with a multilingual perspective.

Please feel free to circulate this information widely and to alert colleagues and students who you think may be interested and suited. Informal enquiries may be addressed to

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Guest Post by Timothy Decker: A Critical Apparatus of the Textus Receptus Tradition


The following is a guest post by Timothy L. Decker. He received his Ph.D. from Capital Seminary and Graduate School in 2021. He is a professor of Biblical Languages and New Testament at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and an adjunct professor of New Testament with International Reformed Baptist Seminary. He is also one of the pastors of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church near Roanoke, VA. His most recent publication is A Revolutionary Reading of Romans 13.

His edition of the Sermon on the Mount (which provides the data behind this post) is available here.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

SBL Presentation on the Future of Text-Types


At SBL last fall I gave a paper on the future of text-types for the session on the IGNTP anniversary. Hugh Houghton kindly asked if I would record it for the IGNTP YouTube channel and the videographers at my school kindly lent their time and talents to record it. (If it looks like I had the paper memorized, I did not. It’s just a camera trick and a teleprompter.) The outline of the paper is as follows:

  1. Intro
  2. Text-types as a solution (2:00)
  3. Text-types as a problem (5:25)
  4. Suggestions for progress (13:50)
    1. Define “texts” (14:02)
    2. Clarify their purpose (16:02)
    3. Specify their relationship (17:08)
  5. Conclusion (18:12)
  6. Postscript (19:30)
Besides giving an overview of where I think the discussion on text-types is (and needs to go), this video explains why we are centering our TCI colloquium this summer on this question.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Review of the Statistical Restoration Greek New Testament


I'm always excited when a new Greek New Testament comes out. It gives another opportunity to look carefully at the subtle differences between editions. This is a review of the hard copy of the Statistical Restoration Greek New Testament (SRGNT), edited by Alan Bunning (GlossaHouse, 2023), based mainly on a careful consideration of the text of Matthew.

The SRGNT is different from other editions because it is 'the first computer-generated text derived directly from the earliest manuscript witnesses using an algorithmic statistical model to simulate a reasoned-eclecticism approach' (back cover).

Bunning has done a great job entering primary data at, a site which I used almost daily for two years when I was evaluating early orthographic information for the Tyndale House Greek New Testament.

At the very least such a computer-generated text, by differing little from the editions produced by human judgement, gives us assurance about the many parts of the Greek New Testament about which there is no dispute.

The edition aims to replace 'the subjective theological bias of human editors with the use of objective statistical and computational methods' (Introduction, p. i). However, computers also do stupid things when humans ask them to, which is why this edition contains hundreds of accentual mistakes and misplaced commas, most of which would have been caught by any careful human editor.

Admittedly wrong accents and commas aren't the most important aspects of a Greek New Testament, but they can be annoying.

In Matthew 5:39 we get this nonsensical comma:

ἀλλʼ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα, σου στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην·

Or γάρ beginning a clause in Matthew 10:23:

ἀμὴν, γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν

Or δέ beginning a clause in Matthew 15:14:

ὁδηγοί εἰσιν τυφλοί τυφλὸς, δὲ τυφλὸν ἐὰν ὁδηγῇ, ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον πεσοῦνται.

There's an interrupting comma after the article in Matthew 25:20:

Καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ, τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν, προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα 

The good news is that such mistakes can all be corrected in a subsequent edition. This is a first edition and can be built upon. As it says in the Introduction (p. ii) 'The SR can be regenerated in less than a minute reflecting all of the latest evidence'.

However, the algorithms are also capable of churning out nonsense readings in more substantial matters. In double square brackets, Matthew 16:2 ends thus: Εὐδία πυῤῥαζει γͅͅὰρ ὁ. The last word of the verse is the definite article and it has no accompanying noun. Good luck translating that!

Again, this is nothing that can't be fixed. But I would argue that this edition overvalues the goal of "scientific objectivity". That's not a problem if it's just an edition within a market place of editions. It can happily be used as a control on other more subjectively produced editions. But it is a problem if you remain convinced that a computer-generated text will give you the best edition.

Here are two examples of where the computer-generated text has produced something inferior to what humans would produce:

1) In Matthew 6:5 the SRGNT produces a switch from the 2nd person singular to the 2nd person plural:

Καὶ ὅταν προσεύχῃ, οὐκ ἔσεσθε ὡς οἱ ὑποκριταί

This unlikely reading may arise because the external attestation for the two verb forms has been treated as unconnected.

2) For Christ's dereliction cry the SRGNT has Ἐλωί, Ἐλωί, λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι in Matthew 27:46 and Ἐλωῒ, Ἐλωῒ, λεμὰ σαβαχθάνι in Mark 15:34. Literally the only differences arise through editorial inconsistency about diaeresis and accents. However, the deeper problem is having the same spelling of the Semitic expression for 'my God' in Matthew and Mark, which does nothing to explain the underlying manuscript differences.

But more positively the work of this edition can definitely help improve other editions. Despite taking great care in considering the orthography of the New Testament, here's a variation I had previously missed, and now know through the SRGNT:

Luke 10:13 Οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδά

but Matthew 11:21 Οὐαί σοι, Βηθσαϊδάν.

The THGNT has Βηθσαϊδά in both cases. Arguably it's a detail we missed and the final nu should be there in Matthew.

So I want to thank Alan Bunning and his collaborators and cheer them on in their task, even as I remain firmly persuaded of the value of the human element in making good editorial decisions.

#SRGNT, #AlanBunning, #THGNT

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Further Arguments for the Verb in Eph 5.22


I’ve blogged a fair bit about Eph 5.22 over the years, culminating in my argument for one of the longer readings in NTS back in 2021. Today, Joey McCollum of Australian Catholic University has a new article out in JSNT extending my argument. He gives much more attention than I could to the internal evidence and concludes in favor of the third person plural imperative. It’s especially helpful to have his thoughts on the function of the third person imperative, a question I only barely touched on in my essay but one that commentators especially need to consider.

Here’s the abstract:

This study revisits a contested textual variant concerning the presence, placement, and person of an imperative directed at wives in Eph. 5.22. Most previous treatments of this variant have decided the matter (typically in favor of the reading without an imperative) on the basis of manuscript support and transcriptional arguments about how readers and copyists of the text would have changed it, but the intrinsic probabilities of what the author would have written based on his argument and style have generally been neglected. This study fills this gap by assessing the intrinsic probabilities of the variant readings in Eph. 5.22 using discourse and information structure, the pragmatics of the Greek imperative, and stylistic observations in Ephesians. As a result of this analysis, the reading with the highest intrinsic probability is shown to be τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, which bolsters the recent case made by Gurry (2021) for the same reading.

Thankfully, the article is open access too. Read it here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Registration Now Open


I’m happy to report that registration for our 2024 TCI Colloquium at Yarnton Manor is now open. The fee is $100/person and includes lunch both days. I hope to see some of our readers there. You can register at

Friday, February 09, 2024

Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Tradition and the Dead Sea Scrolls

I recently read and reviewed Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Traditions for the journal, Presbyterion, published by Covenant Theological Seminary. I thought an overview of the book and some of my takeaways as an OT textual critic studying the Dead Sea Scrolls might be helpful here. To purchase the book with a 40% off coupon, use this code generously provided by the publishers: SH40%


Overview: The paratextual elements of Near Eastern manuscripts are the focus of Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Traditions. These elements, such as annotations, colophons, illustrations, diacritical signs, and commentaries are often overlooked by those interested in biblical studies because of an emphasis on a manuscript’s main literary text. This tendency is understandable given evangelicals' commitment to the text of Scripture but neglecting these paratextual elements ultimately obscures a fuller and more complete understanding of these manuscripts and the texts they transmit. This book, Scribal Habits, highlights these features to provide readers with the ability to ‘“virtually look over the scribes’ shoulder” (xiii; a slight rephrase of the words of J. R. Royse).

Here is a sampling of the book’s content. Elizabeth Buchanan concluded in her chapter that the use of the diaeresis in Byzantine Egypt evinces patterns. One of these patterns is that the “more accomplished writers” used the sign most consistently (23). Binyamin Katzoff studied the chapter divisions in the Tosefta and concluded that the divisions in the E tradition corresponded with the divisions of the Mishna. This study provides insight into how one tradition could be influenced by another literary work: in this case, the Mishna (102). Katzoff’s second chapter of the book investigated how a text could be systematically corrected to a text of an alternative textual tradition (112). This summary suffices to show the importance of these features, especially for evangelicals when studying biblical texts. Our assessment of the biblical text has to consider these features. 

Application to OT Textual Criticism: As a biblical scholar, in particular, a textual critic primarily concerned with the Dead Sea Scrolls, two topics of this book intrigued me. First, I was interested to learn about the significance of the paratextual elements in Near Eastern manuscripts since several of these elements are also present in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, diacritical signs are used in some manuscripts such as the margins of 1QIsaa and 4QCantb, 1QIsaa may preserve a marginal gloss, and a drastic shift in paleography occurs in 4QJosha. Moreover, there is a shift from poetry to prose in 11QPsa. Given the use of these features in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I was interested in how these paratextual elements functioned in other texts of this region.

Second, I hoped that this book would help me ask different questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls and open new avenues of study for me. This task is comparative. That is, I hoped to compare these mostly later more extant manuscripts and their signs and features to the earlier less extant Dead Sea Scrolls.

Before I engage in this comparative task, it is helpful to mention a few difficulties with this process. Perhaps the most profound difficulty in comparing these later Near Eastern manuscripts to the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the Dead Sea Scrolls exist in a highly fragmentary state. Anyone familiar with this discipline understands this reality, and it can easily be illustrated by turning to the back of a DJD volume and observing the PAM plates. One can also see this reality by exploring “The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library” accessed here Many Dead Sea fragments are unidentified, and some are only probably identified (see the debate around 4Q118, for example). This reality complicates an investigation into the paratextual elements of the Dead Sea Scrolls since many upper, lower, and intercolumnar margins have decayed. Handle sheets, title pages, and the endings of most manuscripts have deteriorated into dust. What precious information that these columns of parchment once contained is now lost, regrettably so, so that scholars can only dream of what a now lost colophon might have contributed to our understanding of these manuscripts.

Another difficulty with this process is the chronological and cultural gap between the Scrolls and the texts analyzed in Scribal Habits. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls are usually earlier than the manuscripts discussed here although there is at least one exception to this (see Szilvia Sövegjártó’s chapter on the Sumerian texts from the Old Babylonian era). Scribal habits, and the paratextual elements that they utilized, may not have remained static. The same can be said of the cultural differences between ancient Jews and the cultures of the scribes who preserved the manuscripts discussed in Scribal Habits. These realities, likewise, might complicate the comparative task.

Despite these difficulties, I did enjoy comparing these texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are some thoughts regarding one of the chapters. T. C. Schmidt discussed the reception history of the Book of Revelation in Eastern churches, and in particular, the scribal strategies that might indicate a scribe's general assessment of the book. For example, the material used for writing, the books to which Revelation was bound, and the writing style of the scribe were all strategies that might demonstrate the scribe's attitude about the book’s status.

These insights provided me with interesting questions to ask of the Dead Sea Scrolls such as Does the quality of the script have any effect on a book’s status? Is there any connection between expertly copied texts and the status of the texts preserved in these manuscripts? Here I am thinking of what Tov labels de luxe edition manuscripts (see Scribal Approaches, 125-129). What does the phenomenon of stitching biblical and nonbiblical texts together signify about these texts’ status? This question continues to be an important issue regarding 11QPsa. Although most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are copied on parchment, what does the use of papyrus signify if anything during the Second Temple period? This distinction was significant in rabbinic literature. Is there a correspondence between the orthographic profile of a manuscript and the manuscript’s paleographic style? This one chapter demonstrates the importance of Scribal Habits for those interested in the history of ancient manuscripts including manuscripts that preserve the biblical text.

Overall, Scribal Habits was an enjoyable and insightful read, and it rightly stressed the importance of these paratextual features. Going forward let's open our eyes to the margins of the manuscripts, and let's get excited about what we might see. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Book Notice and Giveaway: Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew


I don't post here too often these days, but when I do, I announce a wonderful, new book and a giveaway! We're giving away two copies of Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the Old Testament by H.H. Hardy II and Matthew McAfee.

Lest one thinks this book is only an intermediate Hebrew Grammar (as if that wouldn't be sufficient), it also includes a chapter on Old Testament textual criticism along with a guided lesson for students to learn to do it for themselves.

To enter the giveaway, share the link of this post on Facebook or X (@ETCtomwas) and tag the ETC Blog in it or simply Share or Repost the original social posts. I'll announce the winners of the giveaway on Friday afternoon!

More from the publisher:

Learning any language is no small task, not least one that sounds as unusual as Hebrew does to most English speakers’ ears. Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew primarily aims to equip second-year grammar students of biblical Hebrew to read the Hebrew Scriptures. Using a variety of linguistic approaches, H. H. Hardy II and Matthew McAffee offer a comprehensive and up-to-date textbook for professors and students.

From an endorser:

Both practically accessible and linguistically rigorous, Hardy and McAffee’s valuable resource meets the needs of students and professors. Though not shying away from the technical details, the authors carefully balance the technical semantic information with the important pragmatic implications. Using famously complex passages (such as the Nephilim) as examples both draws students in and illustrates the importance of the issues. Overall, the authors make the technical relatable and, most of all, practical to second-year Hebrew students. –JoAnna M. Hoyt
Table of Contents

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Vesuvius Challenge Finds a Winner


You’ve probably already seen the news that the Vesuvius Challenge just announced a winner for their contest to read CT scans of carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum. The contest focused on about 5% of one scroll that turns out to be an Epicurean text. This is a big breakthrough that builds on the work done back in 2015 to digitally unroll the En Gedi scroll (blogged about here) and opens the possibility of reading more of the 800 or so carbonized scrolls recovered from the library of Herculaneum that was destroyed in AD 79. Naturally for ETC readers, the question arises whether there might be some biblical manuscripts among these 800.

You can read more about the prize and the prize winning team at

A section of scroll read for the first time since AD 79

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Dormandy: Jesus and the Victory of Manuscripts? A Wrightian Analogy Unpacked

The following is a guest post from Dr. Michael Dormandy who is a Senior Scientist at the Institute for Biblical Studies and Historical Theology, University of Innsbruck, Austria and was mentioned on the blog recently for his forthcoming dissertation on pandects. —Ed.

I recently came across the following striking passage in one of N. T. Wright’s more recent academic books:
Just as the massive nineteenth-century advances in discovering and collating early manuscripts led to major revisions of the text of the New Testament (resisted in some quarters, partly on the grounds that if God had wanted us to have this new text he would have given it to us a lot sooner), so the major twentieth-century advances in our knowledge of the ancient Jewish world, of which the discovery of the Qumran scrolls is just one example, have opened up new possibilities and insights which systematic theology has barely noticed but cannot afford, in my view, to resist or discount. (History and Eschatology, p. 119)
The analogy comes in the context of an argument for the theological relevance of empirical historical research into Jesus and the New Testament. If we really believe that God has entered our world as the human being Jesus, a Jewish carpenter-turned-Rabbi, then we should be able to learn a lot about God by studying in detail the historical evidence for the first-century world(s) in which he lived. Similarly, if we really believe God has spoken through the letters of another human being, the first-century Jewish man, Paul, then the same conclusion follows. If we don’t believe we can understand Jesus and Paul better by studying their cultural and historical context, we have in effect stopped believing they were normal human beings. This methodology has fueled Wright’s ground-breaking work for decades.

A similar conviction drives confessional Protestant textual-critics. If we really believe that God has particularly spoken through human literary works, written in the first-century but without surviving autographs, we should be able to learn a lot about God through studying our earliest and best evidence for the text of those works. It is no secret however that Wright’s work has been controversial, not least in those evangelical circles which have enthusiastically accepted the results of modern textual criticism. Wright appears in the passage quoted to hint that there is an inconsistency here. If modern manuscript discoveries can be allowed to alter the traditional text, they should also be allowed to alter its traditional interpretation.

We must not, of course, assume too great an analogy. Just because the last 150 years have seen us discover both many interesting manuscript sources for late second-temple Judaism and many early and important NT manuscripts, this does not mean that new readings and ideas built on these discoveries are equally persuasive. It is a striking historical coincidence that hordes of manuscripts were discovered both at Oxyrhynchus and at Qumran within a century of each other, but that does not mean both hordes are equally significant. However, for those who reject Wright’s theological conclusions, while still treasuring their modern critical editions of the NT, his challenge has bite. We are willing to allow new manuscript discoveries to influence the text of the Bibles we read. If we are consistent, we should be open to the possibility that new discoveries about the context of the NT could give new insights into what those Bibles mean.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

2024 Colloquium at Yarnton Manor on NT Text-Types


I’m happy to share a project I’ve been working on for some time here at the Text & Canon Institute. Some readers may remember that back in 2021 John Meade hosted our first colloquium on Origen as  Philologist. As the papers for that near publication, we are pleased to announce our second colloquium will be this July on the topic of NT text-types. The event will be hosted at Lanier Theological Library’s beautiful Yarnton Manor just outside Oxford, England on July 18–19. We hope to open registration for attendees in the coming weeks. For now, here are the details of the speakers.

Held just outside Oxford, England, the Text & Canon Institute’s second colloquium will bring together an international group of textual scholars to take stock of the current debate, present fresh avenues of understanding, and discuss the implications for New Testament studies. You can find more details at the conference page.

Speakers and topics 

Titles are subject to change of course

silvia castelli 
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The Origin and Early History of Text-Types

peter j. gurry 
Phoenix Seminary
What Are Text-Types For?

klaus wachtel 
Institute for New Testament Textual Research
The Text-Type Theory in Light of the CBGM

andrew edmondson 
University of Birmingham
The Contribution of Phylogenetics

peter m. head 
University of Oxford
The Alexandrian Text

peter lorenz 
University of Münster
The Western Text

maurice a. robinson
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Emeritus)
The Byzantine Text

stephen c. carlson 
Australian Catholic University
The Caesarean Text

dirk jongkind 
Tyndale House, Cambridge
In Defense of Text-Types

peter malik & darius müller
Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel
Text-Types in the Book of Revelation

h. a. g. houghton
University of Birmingham
Text-Types in the Latin Tradition

Monday, January 22, 2024

Philip W. Comfort (1950–2022)


I just found out that Philip Comfort passed away just over a year ago. I had no idea! I never met him, but I've found his work to be interesting to say the least. Sure, I've had my disagreements with some of his dates of papyri, but the information he compiled in his various works is certainly helpful to have, and the relative accessibility of his work (in terms of price) has no doubt helped to introduce many to textual criticism. I still remember how excited I was in seminary when I found a copy of his Text and Translation Commentary for 75% off at a Christian bookstore in a going-out-of-business sale.

According to his obituary, he was a man of diverse interests, which included writing poetry and surfing. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

You can read the obituary here.

Friday, January 19, 2024

An interesting point in the NA28 apparatus at Gal 1.8


 I'm sure that enticing title should get the clicks coming! Anyway, I'm enjoying teaching a class this term on the Greek text of Galatians (this includes syntax, exegesis, translation, and text). So I was excited to see in the apparatus at Gal 1.8 the following notation: D(*.c).2

At this point I wasn't actually that interested in solving the textual question, more to point out that there are occasions when the NA28 text is based on only a couple of manuscripts. (Incidentally THEGNT prints a different text reading, but as I said, I'm not trying to solve the overall problem here). And secondly to point out that the main early witness in support of the NA28 reading is presented in a complicated way: D(*.c).2

So I tried to explain as best as I could, using the appendix at the back of NA28, what may have happened here in this manuscript (also that D is potentially confusing to those new to textual criticism!). I thought that this notation suggested that the text of D was corrected twice; that the original text must have a spelling variant that broadly supported the text reading more than any other reading and that it was corrected to another reading that was also not the text reading exactly, but must have been quite like it - hence the parentheses. And then that a second corrector had corrected the already corrected text another time to make it correspond to the text reading. 

It was a helpful exercise in demonstrating how much information is preserved in the NA28 apparatus (and appendices); but I also argued that in these situations it is always necessary to check a photo so that you really can see what was happening. So I did: 

Friday, January 12, 2024

ECM Revelation available for pre-order


The German Bible Society now has a page for the ECM Revelation, available for pre-order for €329.00 (plus shipping). The info on the page indicates there are nearly 100 changes from the NA28 [cue the unnecessary fear-mongering]; I am interested to know what all they are and how many of them are translatable. The release date is set for 12 May 2024, and hopefully vol. 3.2 will have Revelation, not Acts, on the front cover in real life. Congrats to Martin Karrer and his team!

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Nicholas Elder: Common Myths about Ancient Reading, Writing, and Circulating Jesus Traditions

This week I received a nice new copy of Nicholas Elder’s new book Gospel Media: Reading, Writing, and Circulating Jesus Traditions (Eerdmans). In it, he addresses various myths that prevail in NT studies about ancient reading, writing, and publication. By “myth, he doesn’t necessarily mean they are false but that they exercise a powerful influence on our thinking and are often left unscrutinized (p. 1). Well, he scrutinizes them! Given my soft spot for books correcting myths and given that this book should be of keen interest to ETC readers, I asked Nick if he would give us a taste of the book. Enjoy. —Peter

There is a notion that in the ancient world people always read aloud. Especially in biblical and patristics studies, the idea is connected to an anecdote about Augustine coming upon his teacher, Ambrose, reading to himself. The details of the account are often fuzzy when one recalls it. An individual may not immediately know how the account suggests that reading aloud was the normal mode of reading in antiquity, but they know the tale supports the notion. It is Exhibit A for the claim that most persons could not or did not read silently in antiquity.

The account is found in Confessions 6.3. In it, Augustine tells how he would often happen upon Ambrose alone with a text that he, Ambrose, was reading not aloud, but silently. Augustine explains that even when his pupils were present, Ambrose read silently to himself. This explanation has spiraled into the myth that most persons could not read silently in the ancient world.

The logic is that because Augustine explains that Ambrose read silently, he must be surprised that Ambrose did so, and he must have been surprised that Ambrose read silently because most people could not or did not.

However, nothing in Augustine’s anecdote suggests surprise at Ambrose’s supposed unique abilities. Rather, his point is to commend Ambrose’s scholastic diligence. He was so committed to his study that he continued doing it even when his pupils came calling. In fact, Augustine himself could and did read silently. In the famous “take up and read” account in book 8 of the Confessions, Augustine reads Romans 13:13–14 in silence (Conf. 8.12).

It is a myth that persons in antiquity could not or did not read silently. The reality is that those who were literate did read silently regularly, and there are just as many, if not more, primary sources that narrate persons reading silently to themselves as those that narrate persons reading aloud to themselves.

This is the first media myth that I address and correct in my new book, Gospel Media: Reading, Writing, and Circulating Jesus Traditions. The book is divided into three parts, each one addressing one of the three media practices mentioned in the subtitle: reading, writing, and circulation. The chapters in each part identify a “media myth” that is prevalent in biblical and New Testament studies and, in its place, offer a more complex “media reality” on the basis of what I find the primary source evidence to indicate. These myths and realities are as follows:

Chapter 1

Media Myth: Reading was always or usually aloud.
Media Reality: Literate persons read both silently and aloud.

Chapter 2

Media Myth: Texts were always or usually engaged in communal read­ing events.
Media Reality: Reading was both a communal and solitary affair. Indi­viduals read texts to themselves, both aloud and silently. Communal reading events were diverse. Small groups read and engaged texts together. Texts were publicly read to large gatherings of people. An­ tiquity was characterized by a variety of reading events, constituted by different numbers of persons in participation of the event. A given text could be read in different ways and in different social contexts.

Chapter 3

Media Myth: Each gospel was written to be experienced the same way.
Media Reality: Each gospel expresses its textuality differently, indicat­ing that the gospels are different kinds of texts that made for different kinds of reading events.

Chapter 4

Media Myth: Persons in antiquity did not often compose texts in their own hands.
Media Reality: Handwriting played an important role in the composi­tion process of various kinds of texts, though how and why it was used varied on the basis of a text’s genre and the author’s social context, literacy, and compositional preferences.

Chapter 5

Media Myth: Composition always involved dictation, which was an act of freezing an oral discourse in written form.
Media Reality: Composition was an interplay between writing by hand and by mouth. Even when a text was dictated, the act of inscribing af­fected the spoken words. Not all forms of writing by mouth were equal and not all should be considered dictation.

Chapter 6

Media Myth: The gospels were all written using the same composi­tional practices.
Media Reality: The gospels were composed using a variety of composi­tional practices.

Chapter 7

Media Myth: Texts were distributed following a “concentric circles” model in which the discourse gained more influence and readers as it went systematically through these different social circles.
Media Reality: Texts were distributed in a variety of different ways.

Chapter 8

Media Myth: The gospels were all circulated the same way and in the same physical format, whether it be a codex or roll.
Media Reality: The gospels, like other texts in their media context, were circulated textually in a variety of socially constructed ways and physical forms.

To address and correct these myths, the book engages various kinds of primary source evidence: Second Temple Jewish narratives and histories, documentary papyri, Greco-Roman literature, letters written by elite literary figures, the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament. The ultimate aim of the book is to explicate the complex media environment of the New Testament context situate the gospels within it.

Friday, January 05, 2024

RP Byzantine Text in Free Digital Formats


This may be old news to some of you but I pass the info along anyway. Norman Simón Rodríguez maintains the public domain repository for the Robinson-Pierpont Greek Byzantine text. The following info is from him.

The repository includes the following resources:

  • The beta code files of the Robinson-Pierpont 2018 text, including Byzantine variants and the Byz vs. critical text apparatuses. There are both accented and unaccented versions, and one version has grammatical parsing data. These files are the official source files created by professor Robinson for his edition.
  • Converted Unicode files in CSV (Excel) format.
  • TEI-XML files of the Unicode text. This format is especially convenient for creating collations against the transcriptions made by the INTF, as those transcriptions also follow the TEI-XML standard.
  • The code used to convert the beta files into Unicode and XML. The code is written in the Python programming language and is open source.
  • Plain-text versions of the 'The case for Byzantine priority' essay in both English and Spanish.
The repository can be found at More information about the Byzantine text can be consulted at

Thursday, January 04, 2024

New Book: Building a Book of Books


My thanks to Michael Dormandy to alerting me that the published version of his Cambridge thesis will soon be out as vol. 54 in the ANTF series from de Gruyter.

Building a Book of Books: Textual Characteristics of the Early Greek Majuscule Pandects 

Michael Dormandy

This book analyses how the early Greek whole-Bible manuscripts (pandects) change and preserve the text. Dormandy refutes the method based on singular readings and so investigates all the ways in which each pandect differs from the initial text, both changes introduced by its own scribe and by the scribes of earlier manuscripts. He surveys sample chapters in John, Romans, Revelation, Sirach and Judges (including discussing the “new finds” of Sinaiticus). Dormandy’s observations of Codex Ephraemi challenge accepted transcriptions. Dormandy argues that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus may plausibly have been made in response to commissions by Constantine and Constans. Dormandy concludes that generally, across all the Biblical books considered, the pandects preserve the initial text well. Transcriptional and linguistic variations are more common than harmonisations or changes of content. The more precise profiles of each manuscript vary between Biblical books. The pandects thus create bibliographic unity from textual diversity. This shows their significance in the history of the Christian Bible: they reflect in bibliographic form the hermeneutical move to consider all the books of the Christian Bible as one corpus.

Some of you may remember Michael's 2018 article in TC on the question of canon and codex. Congrats to Dr. Dormandy!