New Testament Manuscripts

Richard Anthony

The various books of the New Testament were written individually and copied to be circulated amongst the churches of the ancient world. In time God moved men to combine these books into a single volume, the New Testament. This volume and its parts were copied and recopied by hand for centuries.

By the time of the development of the printing press in the mid-15th century, there were many handwritten manuscripts available. Over the next centuries, numerous men set about collecting, combining and comparing the manuscripts in order to have one complete Greek New Testament text to print. One of the earliest of these is the text we know of as the Textus Receptus or Received Text.

Two Categories of New Testament Manuscripts

There are basically one of either two categories of New Testament manuscripts which all bibles are based upon.

1) Majority Text (Textus Receptus) - originally known as the Received Text, which was compiled between 1514 and 1641. The Majority Text has, since then, been made up of thousands of other Greek manuscripts. These later manuscript discoveries have confirmed the reliability of the Received Text.

2) Minority Text (Alexandrian Text) - is based mainly on just two manuscripts, the Vaticanus (also known as "B") and the Sinaiticus (also known as "Aleph"). These manuscripts not only disagree with the Majority Text, but they disagree with each other!

The Minority Text

There are only a few bibles that are based on the Majority Text, such as the King James Bible and the Gideon's Bible. But almost all modern English bibles translated since 1898 are based on the Minority Text (this includes the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Living Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, the New World Translation, the New Century Version, the Good News Bible, etc.). These bible versions are only supported by about five of the over 5,000 manuscripts in existence, or about .1% of all manuscripts, which is why it's also known as the "Minority text.".

The two most prominent manuscripts of the Minority Texts are the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus. Since the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are said to be older than the 5000 manuscripts that support the Majority Text, they were called "better" than the Majority Text. This is not so. These Minority Texts frequently disagreed with each other as well as with the Majority Text, and also contained many obvious and flagrant mistakes. Up until the late 1800s, the Minority Texts were utterly rejected by Christians.

The fact that these two manuscripts may have been older does not prove they are better. More likely it indicates that they were set aside because of their numerous errors. Thus they would naturally last longer than the good manuscripts which were being used regularly. The reader is reminded that the Apostle Paul testified to the corruption of the Word in his day (2 Corinthians 11:4, Galatians 1:6). Hence "oldest" is not necessarily the best.

The Vaticanus, which is the sole property of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Sinaiticus, are both known to be overwhelmed with errors. Words and whole phrases are repeated twice in succession or completely omitted, while the entire manuscript has had the text mutilated by some person or persons who ran over every letter with a pen making exact identification of many of the characters impossible.

Proof that the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus manuscripts are Corrupted

Now lets take a look at some facts about the Minority Text from which most modern translations are derived. One of the manuscripts that make up the Minority Text is the Vaticanus. The Vaticanus was found in 1481 in the Vatican library. The other manuscript is the Sinaiticus. The Sinaiticus was found in 1844 in a trash pile at Saint Catherine's monastery, and rescued from a long (and well-deserved) obscurity. It has a great number of omissions and has many words and phrases marked out and re-written. Both of these manuscripts are from Roman Catholic origin.

The Vaticanus (B):

The use of recent technology, such as the vidicon camera, reveals that the Vaticanus has been altered by at least two hands, one being as late as the 12th century. The Vaticanus agrees with the Textus Receptus only about 50% of the time. It differs from the Majority Greek in nearly 8,000 places, amounting to about one change per verse. It omits several thousand key words from the Gospels, nearly 1000 complete sentences, and 500 clauses. It adds approximately 500 words, substitutes or modifies nearly 2000 and transposes word order in about 2000 places. It has nearly 600 readings that do not occur in any other manuscript. These affect almost 1000 words.

Linguistic scholars have observed that the Vaticanus is classical and Platonic Greek, not the Koine Greek of the New Testament. Codicologists note that the Vaticanus was written on vellum scrolls (skin obtained from animals not yet born), and not papyrus codices, as were used among "the early Christians." The Vaticanus omits crucial parts of Mark and Luke. Theologians question its lack of use by anyone for 1300 years, then its "sudden" discovery in the Vatican in 1481. Protestant researches have never been permitted to examine the actual manuscript and work only from copies provided by the Vatican.

The Sinaiticus (Aleph):

The Sinaiticus, was so poorly executed that seven different hands of "textual critics" can be discerned as they tried to impose their views on this already corrupt manuscript. They twisted it like a nose of wax to meet their purposes at the time. It is no wonder that it was discarded, finally found in a wastebasket fourteen centuries after it was executed. Because of its blatant omissions and alterations, it lapsed into a wastebasket in a monastery, where it was "discovered" by Constantine von Tischendorf in the mid 1800's. It was kept by the Russian government from 1859-1933. Eastern Germany and Russia still retain parts of it. The fact that some pages were written on sheepskin and some on goatskin is a telling sign of its part Christian, part Heathen character.

There are 9000 changes from the Majority Text, amounting to one difference in every verse. It omits 4000 words from the Gospels, adds 1000, reposits 2000 and alters another 1000. It has approximately 1500 readings that appear in no other manuscript, this affects nearly 3000 words.

Not only do the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus manuscripts disagree with the Majority of manuscripts, but they do not agree with each other! The 8000 changes in Vaticanus and the 9000 changes in Sinaiticus are not the same changes. When their changes are added together, they alter the Majority Text in 13,000 places. This is two changes for every verse. Together they omit 4000 words, add 2000, transpose 3500, and modify 2000.

The Majority text

It is true that several thousand manuscripts have been discovered since 1611, some of which were dated between 350-380 A.D. whereas the Received Text's five manuscripts were from the 10th to 15th centuries. However, of the several thousand manuscripts discovered since 1611, the great majority (90-95%) agree with the Received Text.

The Majority Text is also known as the Received Text, Textus Receptus, Traditional Text, Universal Text, Byzantine Text, and other names. The Majority Text has passed down through time copied by people who fear God and believe the ultimate authority of His word. History shows that the Majority Text has the strongest claim of being the authentic representation of the original manuscripts.

  • The Majority Text is based on the vast majority (90-95%) of the 5000+ Greek manuscripts in existence. That is why it is also called the Majority Text.
  • The Majority Text is not mutilated with deletions, additions and amendments, as is the Minority Text.
  • The Majority Text agrees with the earliest versions of the Bible: Peshitta (AD150) Old Latin Vulgate (AD157), the Italic Bible (AD157) etc. These Bibles were produced some 200 years before the minority Egyptian codices favored by the Roman Church.
  • The Majority Text agrees with the vast majority of the 86,000+ citations from scripture by the early church fathers.
  • The Majority Text is untainted with Egyptian philosophy and unbelief.
  • The Majority Text strongly upholds the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the creation account in Genesis, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, the Saviour's miracles, his bodily resurrection, and the cleansing power of his blood! The Minority Text denies all these things.

We can have the confident assurance that the Word of God as it is found in the Majority Text New Testament is a trustworthy representation of the text as originally given. For the most part, the Majority Text follows the Greek manuscripts which were in widespread use for centuries. God continued to preserve His New Testament by guiding His people to use a text which, although in a printed form, nevertheless is God's Holy Word from eternity. May Christians reject the modern Greek texts and the versions which follow them, and use the Majority Text Greek New Testament which God has blessed for many centuries!

Where can you find the most accurate rendition of the Majority Text?

The Answer

As far as the New Testament books are concerned, we should use the Interlinear Greek English New Testament, because it is a transcription, not a translation.

There's a big difference between a transcription and a translation. A transcription is done word for word as close to the original as possible. But as soon as you start translating to a bible, you are interjection your own knowledge and your own opinions. That's why there's so much confusion when people start talking about, "Well what bible translation do I get?" Well, really you don't want any of them, what you really want is a transcription. A word for word transcription into the English language.

The Berry's Interlinear is the most accurate. It has the Greek text, and under each Greek word is the English equivalent. It also has the King James Version text in the columns on the same page, so you can compare the differences side by side. Be aware, there are Interlinear bibles based upon the Minority Text (based upon mainly 2 out of the 5,000 manuscripts found) which are corrupted, so make sure you get the Berry's edition.

"Interlinear Greek-English New Testament" (King James Version) with a Greek-English Lexicon and New Testament Synonyms, by George Ricker Berry, published by Baker Books. Originally published by Handy Book Company, Reading Pennsylvania, 1897.

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