The Greek New Testament
SETTING THE SCENE
We have seen how God decided to preserve the Hebrew OT. We
have seen how He used a nation with its leaders and its skilled
copyists to keep safe within it's central Temple, the words of
the Lord that make up the OT. We have seen how God inspired
those leaders and those scribes to formulate a very complicated
set of rules and regulations to govern the copying of the OT
Scriptures so not one jot or tittle would be lost.
When we come to the writing and preservation of the Greek
NT, we come to a different ball game altogether. It is just not
the same at all as the preservation of the OT. Now for sure, the
Eternal could have used the same type of system I guess, as He
used for the preservation of the OT. The Lord can do anything,
nothing is impossible for Him. He could have called all the 12
disciples together, and through the Holy Spirit(that was doing
wonderful things in those early years of the NT church) said to
them: "Okay fellows, we have the words of the Lord as contained
in the law, the prophets and the writings, so now we shall
undertake to formulate the New Covenant words of the Lord. There
will be chosen four guys to write four accounts of the life and
ministry of the Christ, then we shall have one chosen who will
keep a record of the workings of the NT church over the next
number of years. That record will be called Acts. There will be
others chosen to write other things for the edification of the
people of God, and finally one man will be chosen to write a
prophetic book called Revelation."
The Lord could have spoken to the twelve and told them the
one, two, three order of how the NT Scriptures would be written.
He could also have told them exactly how and under what rules and
regulations, those NT words would be copied and preserved. He
could if He had wanted to, set things up similar as He did under
Israel for the safe keeping of the OT Scriptures, but used the
structure of the NT church instead of a nation or race of people.
Yes, God could have done it that way IF He wanted to, for He
is God and the clay does not say to the potter "why have you made
But as we look into the book of Acts we find not the
slightest hint that God ever desired to write and preserve the NT
Scriptures in the way He did with the OT Scriptures. For many
years to would seem nothing was said to the apostles that any NT
Scriptures would be written as such. Their Scriptures were the OT
with added light and magnification through the life, death, and
resurrection of the Messiah, the Christ. They went out with
those same old Scriptures and preached Christ, and that salvation
was through Him and no other way.
Although Jesus had told them before ascending to heaven that
they were to go into all the world and make disciples of all
nations, it would seem for a while after the NT church started
that they were rather slow on the up-take, had forgotten those
words, a little in the dark about how far they should go with the
truth of the word. Finally the Spirit told Peter the Gentiles
were to be a part of the NT church, and the gospel began to
spread abroad, near and far. Paul was called to the ministry of
Christ, and finally he was led, after trying to work with the
Jews for a time, to go mainly to the Gentiles.
Now the gospel was not just in one group of people, in a
somewhat centralized location in a relatively small area of the
earth - Palestine. The gospel and truth of God was ALL OVER the
Roman Empire! Many ministers were needed here and there, all
serving the work of God, where He sent them. Churches were being
raised up everywhere. The children of God needed to be taught and
instructed. We find this fully illustrated in the life of Paul.
He raised up churches, stayed for a while to teach, then moved
on, and did the same again and again. He would hear of troubles
and problems in some of the churches he founded and would write
letters to instruct them.
In the process of time Perter did the same, and so did James
and so did John. At first there was probably no thought in the
minds of these individuals that they were sitting down to write
inspired NT Scriptures. There was a need to write to certain
peoples or a certain church and they just did. Yet, we also find
that in this process of letter writing and time, these writings
or certain writings became generally looked upon as inspired from
the Lord, and they became acknowledged as "scripture." We see
this in what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:15,16. We are not given the
details in the NT as to WHEN and HOW all this took place. As
Peter wrote what he wrote in his second letter, we of course know
this had come about in his life time, before he was killed. So
we know that before the close of the first century A.D. the NT
church and its apostle leaders had accepted certain writings
by authors of the NT church as "scripture."
This is very important to realize. For the idea that it was
the Roman Catholic church that decided the canon of the NT
sometime in the third or fourth century is totally false, and is
a doctrine quite frankly of demons. The canon of NT Scripture
was decided in the first century A.D. by the true Church of God
itself. All of this truth can be fully read about in the book by
Ernest Martin called "THE ORIGINAL BIBLE RESTORED." I am
certainly not a supporter of very much of Martin's writings and
theological views, but that one book above has my full
So we have then writings in the NT church that were
classified as "scripture" but they were letters in the main, sent
here and yonder, to this or that church group, then as we read
about in one of Paul's letters, to be passed on to other churches
for them to read. Copies of these letters could easily be done by
members in various churches. Soon you may have had a number of
copies of any one of Paul's letters. And so it would go on, a
copy of this letter a copy of that letter. Some churches would
have more copies of more apostolic letters than another church.
Some would have this one and some would have that one, but
probably no church had all the accepted originals or copies of
what was deemed NT "scripture." The main point is: there were
many copies all over the place of NT scriptures.
And it would seem, for there is no other word from the Lord
to the contrary, that God wanted it to be so. That the NT
Scriptures would be handed down to us in a far different way than
was the OT Scriptures.
With that background we are now ready to embark on the
fascinating study of the NT Greek scriptures, and how we can
determine with assured accuracy, what the words of the Lord are
for the New Covenant, or what is popularly known as the New
Once more I shall now quote different section from the book
"HOW WE GOT THE BIBLE" by Neil Lightfoot.
MANUSCRIPTS OF THE NT
We have seen that the NT letters made their appearance in
the latter half of the first century. We have noted also that
these letters were written undoubtedly on papyrus sheets. Papyrus
was used widely but had the disadvantage of being a fragile
writing material. So very soon after the NT letters were penned
the original autographs perished. Yet God's word was not
hopelessly lost. The different NT letters had been received
......which prompted early Christians to make many copies of
these precious apostolic messages. These copies of the NT in
Greek are know simply as manuscripts......
NT manuscripts are of two major types, the form of the
letters supplying the key in determining those types. The
manuscripts of one group......are written in CAPITAL letters and
are known as "uncials." The handwriting found in a larger group
is smaller and in a running hand-style, so these manuscripts are
known as cursives.".......The number of our NT manuscripts is
VAST (about 5,300 - Keith Hunt).......only a FEW contain anything
like what could be termed a complete NT.......Most of the
manuscripts do not contain the entire NT for the simple reason
that a hand-produced copy of the whole was too bulky for
practical use. Our present manuscripts indicate that four
categories were generally followed when making copies of the NT:
(1) the Four Gospels, (2) the Acts and the General Epistles, (3)
the Pauline Epistles, and (4) the book of Revelation........In
other words the NT was often broken down into separate volumes,
and this is why most of our manuscripts today do not contain all
of the twenty-seven books. Of the known....manuscripts, the vast
majority are cursives.......while those of uncial script number
altogether about 300.
When the NT was first written the literary style was of
uncial character. This means that the letters of the apostles
were inscribed in large letters, without intervening spaces
between the words, and with no marks of punctuation. How Paul's
letter to the Romans appeared to his readers may be illustrated
This looks something like Paul's original letter, except
that Paul may have used abbreviations for familiar words and, of
course, wrote in Greek instead of English.......
OTHER MANUSCRIPTS AND NT WITNESS
.........The many NT manuscripts are scattered all over the
world.........The cursives, those written in a running hand form
by far the larger group of our manuscripts.......
One further word need to be added in order to make the story
of NT manuscripts complete. Included in the number of our NT
manuscripts is a group of materials known as "lectionaries." The
term "lection" refers to a selected passage of Scripture designed
to be read in the public worship services, and thus a lectionary
is a manuscript especially arranged in sections for this purpose.
Most lectionaries are of the Gospels, but some are of Acts and
the Epistles.......More than 1,800 lectionaries have now been
We have now finished a survey of the primary sources of the
NT text. We come now to consider materials that, in comparison
with the manuscripts, are of a SECONDARY rank, yet are valuable
witnesses in their own right......
(1) The SYRIAC VERSIONS. Syriac was the chief language
spoken in the regions of Syria and Mesopotamia and is almost
identical to Aramaic......undoubtedly one of the earliest
translations to be made.......
(a) The OLD SYRIAC.......there are two chief manuscripts of
the Old Syriac: the Curetonian Syriac and the Sinaitic Syriac.
The Curetonian Syriac is a fifth-century copy of the
gospels......the Sinaitic Syriac......a rescript manuscript of
the Gospels, of which about one-fourth is not decipherable. It is
considered to be a little earlier than the Curetonian
(b) The PESHITTA. The word "Peshitta" means "simple" or
"common" and refers to the standard Syriac translation which has
been in use since the fifth century. There are about 250
manuscripts of the Peshitta.......
(2) The LATIN VERSIONS......the Latin Bible was for many
centuries the Bible for Great Britain and all of Western Europe.
(a) The OLD LATIN. The Old Latin version, like the Old
Syriac, goes back to a very early date. It undoubtedly originated
sometime in the second century......about twenty copies, not
including fragments......The Old Latin is by far the most
important of the Latin versions since it reaches back very close
to the time when the last books of the NT were written.
(b) The LATIN VULGATE. By the time of the fourth century the
Old Latin had been widely copied and circulated.....Somehow a
revision had to be made.......In 382 Damasus, bishop of Rome, was
able to gain the services of Jerome for this undertaking.....What
Jerome accomplished then was a revision of a certain form the Old
Latin version - a revision of a version and not an independent
translation.....What followed amounted to a thousand years reign
of the vulgate in the West. While in the East devoted scribes
were toiling carefully to transmit the Word of God in Greek,
western scribes were seeking just as conscientiously to preserve
the Word of God in Latin......accounts for the fact that there
are extant more copies of the NT in the Latin Vulgate (perhaps
10,000) than of the original Greek tongue.
Thus it is scarcely possible to over-estimate the influence
of Jerome on our Bible. For more than a thousand years every
translation of the Scriptures in Western Europe was based on
Jerome's Vugate. Even AFTER men RIGHTFULLY TURNED BACK TO
THE GREEK instead of the Latin for the basis of their
translations, still the Vulgate continued to assert its
influence. Even in the King James Version the Latin Vulgate is
reflected to a greater degree than most people suspect.
Eventually Jerome's Vulgate was made the official Bible of
the Roman Catholic Church, and so it remains today. The Roman
Catholic Bible in English is actually a translation of a
translation, and is not as the Protestant Bible a translation
from the original Greek language.
(3) OTHER VERSIONS. Numerous other versions - the Egyptian
version, the Armenian, the Gothic, the Ethiopic, and the Arabic -
made their appearance in the early centuries of the Christian
.....These Christian writers lived near the end of the first
century, and shortly afterwards. The most important of these for
the NT text include Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, and Clement
of Alexandria, all of the second century; Origen, Tertullian and
Cyprian, of the third century; and in the fourth century the
famous names of Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome. Volume after
volume of their writings have been preserved, many of which are
literally filled with quotations of the NT Scriptures......How
their many quotations read certainly tell us much concerning the
ancient Bible of the primitive church.
End of quotes from Lightfoot.
So we have seen how God decided to write the NT Scriptures.
Not at all like He did under the OT. Writings of the apostles
were, even during some of their lives, accepted as "scripture."
The original autographed writings perished because of the
material written upon. Yet, they were sent here and there, and
copies were made here and there, many copies. No church or no
person ever had the full compete NT scriptures it would seem,
during the lives of the apostles. We have no record that it was
so. The copies made and the ones that survive to this day do not
contain the whole NT. But we have thousands of parts (large and
small) of copies that can be carefully compared to each other. We
have versions or translations made from these early copies, and
we have those who bore the name of Christian living in the second
and third and fourth centuries, who quoted the NT Scriptures in
We have all this, to work with and to ascertain the original
and accurate words of the Lord for the NT covenant writings.
Next time we shall begin to look at HOW the so-called
"textual critics" study all these Greek manuscripts (over 5,000)
to ascertain the true original words of the NT.
To be continued
Written January 1998