Order of Events in the Transmission of the New Testament Text

The following is a synopsis of the things I learned after reading The Origin of the Bible, edited by Phillip Comfort, with chapters contributed by scholars such as F. F. Bruce, Carl F. H. Henry, J. I. Packer and Leland Ryken among others. I highly recommend this book for those who would like to learn the facts regarding New Testament textual criticism. Having come out of an Independent Baptist, King-James Only perspective, this topic is dear to me, although I am not an expert. What follows is my synopsis only, with links to names or concepts that may warrant further study.

If you are knowledgable of the facts below, are not King-James Onlyist, and detect any inaccuracy, feel free to speak up and correct what I’ve written. Of course, if you are King James Onlyist, feel free to engage me in dialogue about it. Again, I’m no scholar, I just wanted to put this info down to help solidify in my mind that which I read in the book. But I posted it because I wanted it to benefit anyone it can. I admit the information listed below is kind of condensed, which may make it a little difficult to comprehend. Feel free to also ask me to clarify what I’ve written, if necessary.

  • Original Autographs
  • Early faithful copies 
  • Western” or “Popular” Text copies (independent copies all seeking to “improve” the text by either harmonizing events or parallel passages, smoothing out awkward language, emphasizing doctrinal aspects) 
  • Alexandrian” or “Polished” Text, begins taking shape through a long process of classifying manuscripts and applying textual critical methods to recover the original readings, developing a superior type of text, although some original readings are “polished” (and thus corrupted) and are instead preserved by the Western or Byzantine Texts. 
  • Concurrent with the ongoing efforts of Alexandrian scholarship, Lucian of Antioch, Syria, (head of the theological school in that city) edits a recension (revision) of the Western Text, conflating (combining) variant readings and smoothing out awkward language. Subsequently, Roman emperor Diocletian persecutes the Church and confiscates Bibles. After Constantine legislates tolerance for Christianity, copies of Lucian’s recension of the Western Text of the New Testament are distributed among the Eastern churches by bishops trained at Lucian’s theological school. This becomes the dominant type of text during the Byzantine era, and is classified as the Byzantine Text. This also becomes the text of Protestant Christianity after the fall of Byzantine civilization and the westward migration of eastern Greek manuscripts, including Byzantine New Testament manuscripts. Hence the formation of the Textus Receptus
  • Usage of the Greek language falls out of use in the Mediterranean region and so the demand for copies of the Alexandrian Text of the New Testament is diminished until the type of text is largely lost to Christendom, although traces of it are retained in the Latin Vulgate and other versions. About 1481 Codex Vaticanus is discovered and placed in the Vatican’s library, but it is not until the 19th century before the bulk of Alexandrian manuscripts is discovered and begins to influence the work of textual critics. 
  • The two strands meet when in 1881, the Authorized Version (based on the Textus Receptus) is revised utilizing Alexandrian scholarship to create the English Revised Version, which revolutionizes the work of English Bible translation, culminating in the Nestle/Aland/UBS critical editions of the Greek New Testament which brings the New Testament to as close proximity to the original wording of the New Testament as has yet been achieved.
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23 responses

  1. Pretty good synopsis, John. Looks like a good book.

  2. Thanks, Bob. It is a good book, and clearly written, for the complexity of the issues involved. It would be a good introduction for anyone wanting to learn about anything from the transmission of the text, to the literary aspects of the books of the Bible, or the history of the English Bible. It certainly filled in a lot of gaping holes in my understanding.

  3. good stuff. If only the KJVO folks would just be willing to look at facts!

  4. I hear you, Will! Keep on fighting the good fight in the trenches!

  5. great come back John!

  6. Thanks, Michael. I do what I can when I can. For now, I’ve replaced my dead computer with someone else’s used computer, and it’s not quite 100%. We’re going to try to get a new one for Christmas, though. Until then, my posting may remain just as on-again-off-again as it has been lately.

  7. John,

    Why are these authors correct, but John Owen, Francis Turretin, and Francis Turretin not? Was there a total apostasy of the doctrine of preservation until the enlightenment influenced rationalism of the 19th century? Did these textual critics bring back Scriptural truth about preservation? How do you know that the NT is “as close proximity to the original manuscripts as ever”? Would God allow His Words to be lost for centuries (Vaticanus), even a millennium, to genuine believers?

    Will probably will not come back to look at this, but…

    What are facts? How does that relate to truth? Are these “facts” or “interpretations”?

  8. I meant Samuel Rutherford instead of Francis Turretin on the third name in the first question.

  9. Regarding the status of the “doctrine of preservation” the article at Bible.org to which my final statement links deals with, among other things, the faulty assumptions that underlie a Majority Text/Textus Receptus view of preservation. Here’s an excerpt:

    “[S]everal decidedly faulty assumptions made by MT/TR advocates. . . are shown to be faulty either by the force of logic or empirical evidence.

    “a. Preservation is a necessary corollary of inspiration. E. F. Hills argued:

    “If the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testament Scriptures is a true doctrine the doctrine of the providential preservation of these Scriptures must also be a true doctrine. It must be that down through the centuries God has exercised a special providential control… . God must have done this …35

    “In other words, preservation proceeds from and is a necessary consequence of inspiration. Or, in the words of Jasper James Ray, “the writing of the Word of God by inspiration is no greater miracle than the miracle of its preservation …”36 Ehrman has ably pointed out the logical consequences of such linkage:

    “Any claim that God preserved the New Testament text intact, giving His church actual, not theoretical, possession of it, must mean one of three things—either 1) God preserved it in all the extant manuscripts so that none of them contain any textual corruptions, or 2) He preserved it in a group of manuscripts, none of which contain any corruptions, or 3) He preserved it in a solitary manuscript which alone contains no corruptions.37

    “The problem with these first and second possibilities is that neither one of them is true: no two NT manuscripts agree completely—in fact, there are between six and ten variations per chapter for the closest two manuscripts.

    “Is it possible that the NT text was preserved intact in a single manuscript? No one argues this particular point, because it is easily demonstrable that every manuscript has scribal errors in it. However, one group does argue that a particular printed edition of the NT has been providentially preserved. Proponents of the Textus Receptus (as opposed to those who argue for the majority text38) believe that the TR satisfies this third requirement. There are numerous problems with such a view,39 but it should be noted that TR advocates are at least consistent in putting preservation on the same level with inspiration.

    “Nevertheless, there seems to be one major flaw in their approach, from a biblical standpoint: If the TR equals the original text, then the editor must have been just as inspired as the original writers, for he not only selected what readings were to go in this first published edition, but he also created some of the readings. To be specific, the last leaf of Erasmus’ copy of Revelation was missing, so he “back-translated” from Latin into Greek and thereby created numerous readings which have never been found in any Greek manuscript. This should cause some pause to those conservative Protestants who hail Erasmus’ text as identical with the original, for such a view implies that revelation continued into at least the sixteenth century. Not only this, but Erasmus was a Roman Catholic who battled papists and Protestants alike—the very man against whom Martin Luther wrote his famous Bondage of the Will. Are conservative Protestants willing to say that this man was just as inspired as the apostle Paul or John? What is especially ironic about this is that most TR advocates reject the text of Westcott and Hort because (in part), as high church Anglicans, they had Roman Catholic leanings!”

  10. As for Will’s reference to “facts,” I would venture he meant the facts of New Testament textual criticism, as opposed to the dogma of King James Onlyism, and its distorted view of the facts of New Testament textual criticism.

  11. Daniel Wallace has so many errors in that article that it should be dismissed.

    I’ve recently written a four part series at my blog, debunking it. I’ll link here. I don’t expect people that want it to do what they want it to do (even though it doesn’t), will like the article, but you should give it a read all the way through, especially the second post on. Here are the links:

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2008/09/criticizing-professor-wallace.html

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2008/09/criticizing-professor-wallace-part-two.html

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2008/09/criticizing-professor-wallace-part.html

    http://kentbrandenburg.blogspot.com/2008/09/criticizing-professor-wallace-part-four.html

    Regarding “facts,” they must be substantiated to be “facts,” so we’re really without true science, and are left with so-called science. We at best have theories with textual criticism. We don’t have the original manuscripts, so we can’t test our theories, i.e., the man-made rules of textual criticism. We shouldn’t assume that man-made standards are scientific. We can’t apply rules that apply to natural books to a supernatural book, the Bible. Do you understand that John?

    I say all this as respectfully as possible. Don’t read into it a harsh tone, just because I disagree.

  12. Kent,

    Having read your first and second posts (focusing on the second), I’m struck by how you misrepresent what Wallace is claiming about the doctrine of preservation as forwarded by MT/TR advocates. You write that he “invents” a new doctrine “that God had purposefully allowed His Words not to be preserved and that Scripture itself does not anywhere guarantee its own preservation.” But what Wallace, in fact, writes is, “My own preference is to speak of God’s providential care of the text as can be seen throughout church history, without elevating such to the level of doctrine.”

    In other words, Wallace does not claim that God has not preserved his Word, only that Scripture is silent on HOW it would be preserved, and that MT/TR advocates who claim to build an exegetical case for how Scripture would be preserved, are actually making their case from human rationality, the very thing for which they criticize eclectic text advocates.

    But what Wallace does affirm is that “the NT is the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world–both in terms of the quantity of manuscripts and in their temporal proximity to the originals. Not only this, but the fact that no major doctrine is affected by any viable textual variant surely speaks of God’s providential care of the text. Just because there is no verse to prove this does not make it any less true.”

    Thus, Wallace advocates explaining how God providentially preserved the NT by the evidence itself. Scripture doesn’t spell out the process of inspiration, so why must it spell out the process of preservation?

  13. “We can’t apply rules that apply to natural books to a supernatural book, the Bible. Do you understand that John?”

    Go ahead and state your case, Kent.

  14. John,

    I’m very open to finding out how I misrepresent Wallace. And I mean that. I’m not the only one that says that he doesn’t believe in the doctrine of preservation and based on that article. It was this article that Wallace himself pointed me to so that I could see how that he had proven that Scripture doesn’t teach its own preservation. I don’t see how you got what you got out of reading the article. Even Critical Text advocating Detroit Baptist Theological says that Wallace is saying what I said that he said.

    Did you notice the blatant errors in the section where he is supposed to disprove that Scripture teaches preservation? Does that have any effect on you?

  15. Well, as my first paragraph points out, you say he invented a doctrine, while his very words deny making a doctrine out of anything. That’s a misrepresentation. The misrepresentation is especially clear when you see that you stated that his “doctrine” (which he did not claim to invent) was that God “purposely allowed his words not to be preserved,” and I quoted two places where Wallace affirms “God’s providential care of the text,” and the fact that “the NT is the most remarkably preserved text of the ancient world.” That’s what I call misrepresentation.

    It’s true that he denies that the Bible specifies how God would preserve his Word, which is what your doctrine attempts to do. And on that point I agree with him.

    I checked out the way you treated his treatment of the passages, yes. You’ve got a few problems there, too. I just wanted to take things one issue at a time, though. I’ll try to put down what I found about that later today.

  16. John,

    No disrespect, but you won’t admit that Wallace is denying that Scripture teaches its own preservation. You say instead, against what he himself says he is doing, that Wallace is only saying that Scripture doesn’t teach “how” it was preserved. Detroit and others believe that Scripture doesn’t say “how,” but Wallace believes that Scripture doesn’t say that God would. His doctrine, i.e. teaching, is that Scripture doesn’t proclaim its own preservation. That is a new doctrine. That has not been what professing Bible-believers have ever taught. Ever. So it’s new. So again, you don’t like the way I put it. He does say, as you said, that he thinks that “history” shows that the Bible is well preserved, suitably preserved to protect enough doctrines for a person to still get saved. That’s as far as he goes. “Providential care” of the text does not mean preservation of all the Words, which is what Scripture teaches and the church has affirmed through the centuries. I have provided all over the place multiple quotes on this. The Capel quote is one among many. There are huge passages of Turretin, Rutherford, Owen, and others, in addition to the Westminster and London Baptist Confessions. Even Aland says that the men at that time believed that they possessed the “original text” of the NT. I guess you deny what he says as well?

    By the way, if there is another misrepresentation, it is this idea that Scripture doesn’t say how God would preserve His Word. To be honest, all men have meant by that is that God didn’t say that he would preserve Scripture in a particular text type. That is nothing more than a straw man, and I show that through the canonicity argument. God also doesn’t say that He will reveal 66 books to mankind. Men still believe in 66 books because of Scriptural, fideistic criteria. However, Scripture says all over the place how God would preserve His Words—through Israel and the church. That is very, very clear. We have shown that in our book Thou Shalt Keep Them. John, study the Hebrew words natsar and shamar in the OT and then tareo in the NT. Scripture shows how God would preserve it.

    If men don’t believe that God has shown how Scripture would be preserved, then they are also eradicating the truths of how Scripture would be canonized.

  17. Wallace wrote:

    “First, the doctrine of preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church. In fact, it was not stated in any creed until the seventeenth century (in the Westminster Confession of 1646). The recent arrival of such a doctrine, of course, does not necessarily argue against it—but neither does its youthfulness argue for it. Perhaps what needs to be explored more fully is precisely what the framers of the Westminster Confession and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (in 1675) really meant by providential preservation.”

    When Wallace says preservation was not a doctrine of the ancient church, he supports that claim by pointing to a lack of creedal or confessional affirmation of such before the Westminster Confession. You appeal to the writings of individuals while he appeals to corporate statements. Apples and oranges. The corporate statements necessarily contain less than a comprehensive exposition of Scripture. They define the boundaries, individuals work out the details within those boundaries for themselves, and differences abound between their various expressions within the creedal boundaries. To deny the existence of a creedal or confessional expression of preservation prior to Westminster is not to deny that anyone ever thought of talking about such a phenomenon, it means it never became a test of orthodoxy or denominational position before Westminster.

    The issue is what, or how much, the Westminster divines meant by the idea of Scripture being kept pure in all ages by God’s providence. As I’ve spelled out above, this is an umbrella under which various individual approaches can unite. The language leaves room for Wallace’s understanding as well as those of MT/Byzantine/KJV Onlyists. That’s why I asked you at your blog about that Capel quote. It sounds to me like he’s saying what I’m saying: his Hebrew and Greek copies do vary, but not “in any matter which may stumble any.” That sounds like a preservation of the message, if not every jot and tittle.

  18. John,

    If you can’t admit that Wallace is saying what he says that he is saying, we’re not going to have a fruitful conversation. I would ditto that with the obvious blunders Wallace makes that I point out in his section on the Scriptural teaching. Those are indefensible, so if you choose to defend them, that would shoot your credibility on this.

    He says point blank that Scripture doesn’t teach its own preservation. That is a new teaching. You grab ahold of the Wallace assertion that this started with the Westminster Confession. I haven’t even dealt with what he says that history says. It’s also an argument from silence. He can’t find anything historically that says the Bible says it wasn’t preserved. What you’re saying is that we must find in the patristics a presentation of the doctrine of preservation or it was invented by the Divines. You’ll also have difficulty finding the doctrine of justification in the patristics, so do you believe that was a historic doctrine? When we go back as far as the printing press, we are going back to most of our written history of things.

    Nobody says copies didn’t vary. But when you read Capel and the other Divines, they say that where there was an error in one, it was corrected in another. They believed in the preservation of Words, not parchment. Again, if you read what the Divines said about preservation and you get that they believed the “message” was preserved, then you are just revising or making it up. They believed they had the equivalent of the originals. Not only is that what I read, but that is what the experts on the Divines say that they believed.

  19. What’s with the ultimatum and the homework assignments? First of all, Wallace does deny that the New Testament was preserved by majority rule, and any other logical associations he critiques among MT/TR advocates. He writes, “As we have argued concerning the faulty assumption that preservation must be through “majority rule,” the scriptures nowhere tell us how God would preserve the NT text.” This does not mean that he denies the providential preservation of Scripture, and I demonstrated his agreement with such in two separate quotes, so you are misrepresenting him when you say that he believes God allowed the Scriptures to go unpreserved. Furthermore, I’ll say that he probably does believe that the Scriptures in one way or another do teach THAT God preserves his inspired word, just not HOW. If that’s going to make further conversation unfruitful, so be it. He explicitly denied that the Bible teaches HOW, but I haven’t read where he explicitly denied that the Bible teaches THAT he would preserve his inspired word.

    Second of all, if there’s a point you want to make about the Hebrew and Greek, then make it. I’ve got enough to be looking up on my own without your adding to it.

    On the WCF, I’m not saying the Divines invented the doctrine. I don’t believe they invented the doctrine. If it is true that the WCF is the first confessional statement that touches on the doctrine of preservation, then it was the first time the doctrine became a test of orthodoxy on some level, not the invention of the doctrine. Patristics, is the writings of the individuals we call the church fathers. They are not confessional statements, so again, you miss the point. Some or all of them may have done some exegetical writing on preservation, I don’t know. I’s jes a Bibul Collige drop out. But that sheds no light on whether preservation was contained in any historic creedal or confessional statement as a test of orthodoxy, not as the official invention of the doctrine.

    Thanks for clarifying on the Divines. I was just asking. I’m not trying to say they said something they don’t say, but that one phrase in that one quote sure sounded like it to me. That’s why I asked you to recheck the context to see if it sheds further light on that particular phrase. But that’s not what you’ve done, you’ve simply made a general statement about the Divines, which I’ll take, sense I just took homework assignments off the table.

    I may find little to no time over the weekend to further injure my credibility with you on the verses, so we’ll plan tentatively to pick it up Monday or so. Have a nice weekend.

  20. John,

    Consider this about Wallace:

    http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2006/03/divine-preservation-of-scripture.html

    Here is a conclusive question Wallace asks in your linked article:

    “Third, if the doctrine of the preservation of scripture has neither ancient historical roots, nor any direct biblical basis, what can we legitimately say about the text of the New Testament?”

    Here is what DBTS Journal says:

    “In an article entitled “Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament
    Textual Criticism,” by Daniel B. Wallace, we find what is apparently
    the first definitive, systematic denial of a doctrine of preservation of
    Scripture.”

    In this interview:

    http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2006/03/interview-with-dan-wallace.html

    He says that he is not sure that the Bible speaks of its own preservation.

  21. All right, I’ll grant that. And I’ll agree that if that’s among the points he makes, one like that should be built on more extensive exegesis than what he offers in the article. That leads me to believe he’s not that dogmatic about it, especially when he says he’s not “certain” the Scripture teach their own preservation.

    But that is still not to say that he denies God actually did preserve it, you do grant his admissions on that point, don’t you?

    I’ve been thinking about the whole confessional aspect of it, and it makes sense that there would be no creedal or confessional statement on preservation prior to the Reformation since the Roman Catholic Church considers the Scriptures its own product, so they must believe they themselves guarantee Scripture’s preservation. So that upon Reformation, the Reformers concluding the reverse, that the church is the product of Scripture, they decided to make the preservation of Scripture a confessional issue.

  22. If you’ve been following this exchange between Kent Brandenberg and myself, you may be aware that I’ve yet to deal as promised with Kent’s claims of “blatant errors” in Dan Wallace’s treatment of a few Scripture passages used by at least one Majority Text advocate in defense of the doctrine of preservation of Scripture. Keep watching, in the days and/or weeks to come, I’ll be posting on those passages individually.

  23. Yea you’re right. It wasn’t very original of me, as I had to browse your website to find these Scriptural writings. A true elect would have had these Canonized Scriptural Books in his library already.

    Last night I stumbled back to your blog site. I read with interest the current discussion between yourself and Kent Brandenburg, which is in your blog entitled “Order of Events in the Translation of the New Testament Texts”, which began on 10/27/08. I was quite surprised your opening statements, as I quote from you….

    “If you are knowledgable of the facts below, are not King-James Onlyist, and detect any inaccuracy, feel free to speak up and correct what I’ve written. Of course, if you are King James Onlyist, feel free to engage me in dialogue about it.”

    Your statement is very interesting in that you invite “CORRECTION” from “knowledgeable PEOPLE” but “ONLY” from “PEOPLE” who are “NOT” “King-James Onlyists.’” You DO however invite “King-James Onlyists’” to “engage you in dialogue.

    What seems to be missing within those two sentences is that true “CORRECTION” comes ONLY from God’s Word, the Bible, and not from “knowledgeable people” invoking man’s wisdom on a theological topic.

    Also strange in your fire is that you kind of veil (if you will) that you CANNOT be corrected by “King-James Onlyists”, as you invite them for dialogue, but withhold inclusion of being “corrected” by that particular group of people. In other words, those that are ‘in line’ with your preconceived ideas, are the ONLY people capable of correcting you. “Dialogue from that camp is okay, correction is impossible, because what I believe is right.”

    What is odd in your “correction’ and “dialogue” invitation, is that you earlier make the admission “this topic is dear to me, although I am NOT an expert.” And later state “Again, I’M NO SCHOLAR, I just wanted to put this info down to help solidify in my mind THAT WHICH I READ IN THE BOOK.”

    These are statements which immediately ring of ‘tunnel vision.’ That what you read in a book of man’s wisdom, is where you are looking for truth.

    I earlier implored you to search the Scriptures for your learning and proofs, not the ranting of folks shooting down things which they have no idea about.

    With all that said, I must say I am no “King James Onlyist” however, of the English translations, the King James (though not perfect), is by far the most reliable of the English Bibles.

    To begin a blog topic with an admittance that you have very little knowledge in the topic’s area, then to immediately stand firm ground that you are open to correction from one camp (the one that see’s things YOUR way), yet not the other, is quite a shaky foundation to stand on.

    The Reformed Church has for centuries been the most faithful to God’s Laws, perhaps one could even say, by far. But the direction many within it are taking, heeping to themselves so-called Reformed Apologists books and writings, and straying away from the precepts of God’s Laws are stunning. Many in the Reformed Church sadly are falling away. The Church itself has been shot through with the Charismatic gospel, false teachings on Baptism, slowly opening the door to women, the change on their original teachings on divorce and many other areas. Don’t believe these statement? Study up and you’ll see.

    Godly men like John Calvin and Martin Luther must be turning in their graves.

    As you engage Mr. Brandenburg in dialogue (but no openness to correction from him) you flippantly throw excerpts from men written books, all of which back the pre-conceived conclusions you freely admit you are novice in. Wallace’s name is tossed to and fro, along with many other “Captain Headknowledge’s” in line articles.

    Again, as I wrote 5 weeks ago, where is your Scriptural backing? John, you present strange fire. God is no respecter of persons. By His Grace He can choose to save anyone of us. May we all implore Him to toss away our pride and humbly beseech Him for His Mercy, while we go to His Word day and night.”

    Ps 90:2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

    Kevin

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