SOME OF THE RULES FOR
DETERMINING THE ORIGINAL
We have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, and at first that
might lend to the thought of "confusion" as to determining the
original words of the Lord. Actually the opposite is the case,
for most of those manuscripts agree in the main with each other,
but I will have more to say on that matter later in our series.
The wealth of material we have for the NT is a very large plus.
F.F. Bruce sums it up very well in his book THE NT DOCUMENTS,
pp.16-17, "Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the NT is in
manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for
other ancient works. For Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' (composed between
58 and 50 B.C.) only nine or ten (manuscripts) are good, and the
oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar's day. Of the 142
books of Livy (59 B.C. to A.D. 17) only 35 survive known to us
from no more than 20 manuscripts......only one of which is as old
as the fourth century. Of the 14 books of Tacitus (c.A.D.
100)......the texts of these historic works depends entirely on
two manuscripts, one of the ninth century and one of the 11th.
The History of Thucydides (c.460-4000 B.C.) is known to us from
eight manuscripts, the earliest belonging to A.D. 900....The same
is true of the history of Herodotus (488-428 B.C.). Yet no
classical scholar would listen to an argument that the
authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the
earliest manuscripts of their works of any use to us are over
1,000 years later than the originals."
Again, we have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts for the
verification of the NT words of the Lord, plus 10,000 manuscripts
of the Latin vulgate, and about 1,000 for other early versions,
as well as quotes of the NT from the so-called early "church
The verification of the 27 NT books is easier than for any
other piece of classical writing. The large manuscript data makes
it much simpler to reconstruct the original reading for disputed
or unclear passages. The scholars who spend their life studying
the Greek NT manuscripts do use some basic rules to ascertaining
the original words. We need to look at some of them.
Once more I go back to the book by Lightfoot "How We Got the
Quotes from chapters 5 and 6.
The Text of the NT
We have already seen that the original autographs of the NT
are no longer in existence. We may wonder why the Supreme
Governor of the world would allow this to happen. We may be
tempted to ask why God did not in some way collect all the
original letters of the inspired writers and store them up
through the years for sake keeping. Final answers to these
questions cannot be given by men. Nevertheless we can see that it
was necessary for SOME copies of the originals to be made, for
otherwise there could have been no spreading of the written
record; and we can see that the first copies had to be made by
use of the originals........
.......The function of the textual critic is plain: He SEEKS
BY COMPARISON AND STUDY OF ALL THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE TO RECOVER
THE EXACT WORDS OF THE AUTHOR'S ORIGINAL COMPOSITION. The NT
text-critic seeks, in short, to weed out the chaff of the bad
readings from the Genuine text......Why is he so much concerned
about the Greek text? Because he knows that the only way to have
a reliable English translation is to make sure that the original
fountain-head is free from all impurities......
Mistakes of Copyists
.......Manuscript faults come about in two ways: either the
alterations made by the scribe are UN-intentional slips of the
pen, or else the alterations are made deliberately.
1. UN-intentional Errors. Mistakes of the hand, eye and ear
are of frequent occurrence in the manuscripts, but usually pose
NO PROBLEM because they are so easy to pick out. Often a scribe
with a copy before him mistakes one word for another, and so by
chance copies down the wrong word. Sometimes a scribe confuses
words of similar sound, as in English we often interchange
"affect" and "effect." Not a few times does the scribe......
misunderstand the passage due to improper division of the
words......remembering that during most of the unicial period the
style of writing was to crowd the letters together in such a way
as to leave the words without intervening spaces between them.
Errors of OMISSION and ADDITION are common in all the
manuscripts. Words are sometimes omitted by a copyist for no
apparent reason, simply an un-intentional omission. More often
however, omissions are due to similar appearance of words at a
corresponding point.....the scribes eye might skip.....Likewise a
scribe might add to his copy in the same way. He may
inadvertently transcribe a word twice in succession. He may
write for example, "Jesus, Jesus" instead of simply "Jesus."
.....But the textual critic by comparison of the many manuscripts
can detect and explain these errors without hesitation.
Another form of error, more difficult to solve, grows out of
the practice of writing explanatory notes in the margin. These
marginal notes are somehow incorporated in the main body of
material and thus become a part of the text. BUT IT SHOULD BE
STRESSED in this connection that the NT manuscripts RARELY
EXHIBIT THIS KIND OF ERROR, and when it does occur our MANY
TEXTUAL WITNESSES keep us on the right course.
2. Intentional Errors.......What presents a more serious
problem to the textual critic are the variant readings which have
been purposefully inserted by the scribe. We are NOT TO THINK
that these insertions were made by some dishonest scribe who
simply wanted to tamper with the text. Almost always the
intention of the scribe is good and he only wanted to "correct"
that appears to be an error in the text..........
Basic Rules of Textual Criticism
......Over a period of serval centuries Textual Criticism
has formulated a number of fundamental "rules" or principles
which has proved of inestimable value in deciding between
variations in the manuscripts......
One basic rule is that the more DIFFICULT READING IS TO BE
.......This is true because it was a natural tendency for the
scribe to smooth out rough places in the text which he was
copying. If a scribe looks at a passage which he does not
understand, or at a word which is unfamiliar to him. he will
think that somewhere along the line his text has become corrupt;
in this event he will alter the passage slightly, thinking all
the while that he is improving it........
Still another important rule enters here. In parallel texts,
as we find in the Gospels, DIFFERENT READINGS ARE USUALLY
PREFERRED. All of the Gospels present but one view of Jesus, that
He is the Son of God. Yet in presenting this view their
individual descriptions of Him and His sayings often employ
different words. Through the years these verbal distinctions,
either intentionally or unintentionally, would tend to be
"harmonized" by the scribes. Thus it is a sound conclusion that
in parallel accounts the text which preserves minute verbal
differences is generally the better text......
Naturally there are many other similar rules of Textual
Criticism, some of which are much more technical in
character........What an unexperienced person might consider a
maze of bewildering data on the text, a trained specialist will
regard as a wealth of material in which has been preserved the
(Note: There is one large rule of Textual Criticism I left
out from Lightfoot's above chapter, and that is the rule the
MODERN - last 150 years - critics use, namely, the so-called
"early quality" manuscripts - the Vaticanus and Sinaitic
manuscripts - must be regarded as true, above the "older
quantity" manuscripts. In other words our modern Textual Critic,
places more value upon a few of the earliest in date manuscripts,
than upon thousands of later dated manuscripts that agree. To put
it yet another way, they say "the earlier is correct, though only
a few, the later to be disregarded though thousands of them
agree." Of course we are talking about when there is a difference
between those few early manuscripts and the thousands of later
ones. This modern rule of the Textual Critic, is itself not
without its critics, and in the process of time, more and more
critics have given criticism against this rule. It is quite
frankly a false and deceptive rule which I shall give some
in-depth study to in later instalments in this series of articles
- Keith Hunt)
Significance of Textual Variations
Number of Variations
Suppose some were to say that there are 200,000 errors in
the NT text. What would be our response?.......From one point of
view it may be said that there are 200,000 scribal errors in the
manuscripts, but it is wholly misleading and untrue to say that
there are 200,000 errors in the text of the NT. This large number
is gained by counting all the variations in all the
manuscripts(over 5,000 - Keith Hunt). This means that if, for
example, one word is misspelled in 4,000 different manuscripts,
it amounts to 4,000 "errors." Actually in a case of this kind
only one slight error has been made and it has been copied
4,000 times. But this is the procedure which is followed in
arriving at the large number 200,000 "errors.".........Because we
have more NT manuscripts we have more variations.....If the large
number of manuscripts increases the total of variations, it
supplies at the same time the means of checking them.
Consequences of Variations
......What bearing do they have on the NT message and
1. Trivial variations which are of no consequence to the
The GREAT MAJORITY of variant readings in the
manuscripts has to do with trivial matters, many of them so
minute that they cannot be represented in translation....variants
concern the omission or addition of such words as "for," "and,"
"the," etc. and others have to do simply with different forms of
the same Greek words. At one point is there a real problem of the
text.......Very often words in the Greek copies are spelled
slightly differently over a period of years......English words
have changed their spelling the last few centuries. One has only
to take in hand a copy of the first edition of the King James
Bible of 1611.......In a similar way the Greek language was
undergoing change......Variations in grammar and even vocabulary
are to be explained on the same basis. Or a variation may be no
more than a change in the order of the words, as "the Lord Jesus
Christ" instead of "Christ Jesus the Lord." In all cases like
this we have an abundance of information which enables us, even
in trivial matters, to make a concrete decision as to the
2. Substantial variations which are of no consequence to the
We do not wish to leave the impression that all textual
variants can be lightly dismissed. Some variations involve not
only a word ot two but a whole verse or even several
verses...examples...Codex Bezae of the fifth century......has
peculiar readings, one of which is found in Luke 6:5: "On the
same day, seeing one working on the sabbath day, he said unto
him, Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if
you do not know, you are accursed and a transgressor of the law."
This curious incident is recorded in no other manuscript or
version. It is beyond doubt a substantial variation, but we are
sure it was not apart of Luke's original Gospel.........
(Note: The above example shows that such a reading in Luke's
Gospel was not a part of the original because it only appears in
this particular manuscript, and compared to all the other
thousands of manuscripts the Codex Bezae is noted to contain some
very strange verses. Textual Criticism has unhesitatingly reject
it as part of the original from Luke - Keith Hunt).
End of quotes from Mr.Lightfoot.
We have briefly seen the overview of Textual Criticism. The
problem arises with Textual Critics over the last 150 years. The
King James Bible was founded upon certain Greek manuscripts that
are known as the "Textus Receptus" or "received text." Now the
KJV was published in 1611, a lot longer than 150 years ago, so
why am I saying that the problem with modern Textual Criticism is
from about 150 years ago. Well, during that time TWO manuscripts
came to light, the Vaticanus and the Sinaitic(we shall have much
to say about them in the next article). They differ in MANY
places over the Greek manuscripts known as the "Textus Receptus"
and because these two manuscripts are dated earlier than the rest
of the Greek manuscripts that the KJV was based upon, many
textual critics of the last 150 years, base their NT translation
on these two manuscripts where there may be a difference between
them and the thousands of Greek texts that constitute the
If you will read say the NIV translation and the KJV or
NKJV, verse by verse, side by side, you will soon discover many
differences, and some are large and important differences. To
prepare yourself for our next studies in this subject you may
want to read the "introduction" to the NEW King James Bible.
Then you might want to ask yourself: Did the words of the
Lord, the original words of the writers of the NT exist BEFORE
these two manuscripts of the Vaticanus and Sinaitic came to light
in the 19th century, or was God's word somewhat hidden in its
full completeness until those two manuscripts became known? In
other words: Did not people have the complete words of God in the
NT until the Vaticanus and Sinaitic manuscripts came on the
scene? Did God hide His true word from us until the 19th
The modern Textual Criticism started with two now famous(we
shall see later they are really infamous men) individuals by the
names of Westcott and Hort. There is a side to those men that few
have read about, or been told about. You will be shown that side
over the next few articles.
The battle over the REAL NT Greek text we shall start to
explore next time.
To be continued
Written January 1998