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Textual Criticism Questions:


Below are e-mails I received in 2000 asking questions about textual criticism. The e-mailers’ questions and comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

>Is there a version of the Bible made from manuscripts (Old Latin, Coptic, Hebrew, Greek) that are from the year 300 and earlier? Thanks for your time.


I'm not sure if there is a complete Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament from before 300 AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls would be the earliest manuscripts. They contain parts of every book of the OT (except Esther), but only the Isaiah A scroll contains a complete book.

The Septuagint was translated c. 200 BC, but I'm not sure when the earliest manuscript dates from. And I'm really not sure of the date of translations of the OT into other languages, let alone the dates of the manuscripts themselves.

As for the NT, the earliest (almost) complete manuscripts are Aleph and Beta (c. 325). There are many fragments from before this, but none are "complete." Most contain something like just the Gospels or just the Pauline epistles.

I hope that helps some.

>To Gary

Sir what I was trying to ask is not is there a manuscript of the whole New Testament, but rather can a New Testament be made using whole AND fragments of the New Testament manuscripts dating BEFORE the year 300. My question was not really about the Old Testament. Thank you.


Thanks for the clarification. Looking at a chart in the USB Greek Testament, there are several manuscripts from the third century containing the Gospels, a couple with Acts, several containing Paul's epistles, one containing the general epistles (Heb-Jude), and one containing the Revelation. So assuming the ones with the general epistles and the Revelation are "complete" then yes, you could put together the entire NT.

I should also add, I have also read before that you could piece together almost the entire NT from quotations of the NT in the writings of the Church Fathers. However, I'm not sure to what date that is considering the Church Fathers to extend to. It may just be to 325, or it could include the post-Nicene period to around 600 as well.

I hope that all helps.

> Dear Gary, 

How are you again? <

Doing rather well, thank you.

> I checked a Christian Bookstore today and browse a few "Interlinear" and "Parallel" Bible (each vs. NIV, KJV or NRSV) trying to find out the textual variance between CT and MT/TR at 2Thes 2:3.

However, I found that the prefaces of all these books never state they are based on CT or TR/MT.  But I guess most of them must be based on CT, because when I checked 2Thes 2:3, I always only find the Greek word avouuac (i.e. 'Lawlessness' and not 'Sin').<

 "Critical Text" is my short-hand way of referring to either of two published Greek texts: Nestle/ Aland's or the United Bible Societies'. Actually these two groups did get together, and with the 27th edition of the former and the 4th edition of the latter, they are now identical. In the preface to a CT-based interlinear, one of these two should be mentioned.

> I'm still looking for one version that is based on TR/MT where the Greek word should be "Sin", as you said on last email, instead of "lawlessness."  Maybe you can give me some more clue. Or it is also possible the Greek avouuac may mean either meaning at the same time. But I don't think so.

God Bless,

The word for "sin" used in the TR/ MT is amartias. So they are different. There are three interlinears that I know of not based on the CT:

Jay P. Green's. (TR, LITV in margin)

Ricker Berry's. (TR, KJV in margin)

Fasrstad's NKJV Interlinear. Thomas Nelson. (MT, NKJV in margin) 

Books-A-Millionhas available Green's Interlinear and Berry's Interlinear Testament .

>Hi Gary,

My name is Daniel ____, one of Houghton's friends.  He showed me your webpage and your email exchange with him.  I must say that you opened my eyes to something I never considered before.  I always take for granted that the recent Bible translations must be better than the KJV but you show me that it is not necessarily the case.  I am not saying I can easily agree with you but I am willing to listen.< 

It's a difficult issue, with good agreements on all sides. I, of course, I have come down on a particular side. So all I can suggest is to study all sides and make a decision you're comfortable with.

> I have a question.  All your examples are from the NT.  Do you hold similar opinion regarding the OT?  As far as I know, most Bibles nowadays use an eclectic approach, i.e. they are not solely based on the Masoretic Text but constantly referring to other sources.  Do you agree with this approach, or do you think we should stick to the Masoretic Text as the KJV was based on?<

I haven't studied OT textual criticism much, so I'm not really that qualified to comment on it. But I will say this, most translations follow the Masoretic Text and then footnote variants from the DSS, LXX, Vulgate, and various Hebrew manuscripts. I have no problems with this practice as it is just the providing of info. However, I would be uncomfortable with incorporating readings from these texts into the translation itself for the following reasons.

The DSS are fragmentary. So it would not be possible to make a complete translation from them. Moreover, if God wanted us to use the DSS for translation, I do believe He would have preserved the entire OT in them.

The LXX and Vulgate are translations. So any translation of them would be a translation of a translation. And such a practice is always fraught with possible errors.

For whatever reasons, scholars have determined that the other Hebrew manuscripts available are not as reliable as the Masoretic Text. Again, I've haven't studied the issue enough to express or comment on their reason in this regard.

> Looking forward to your reply.  Thank you very much.

In Christ,

I hope the above helps.  

>Subject:  Help...!!!!!!

Dear Gary,

>Greetings. I hope you are doing well, and your work is progressing along. There is an old expression, fools go where angels fear to tread. I am afraid I am in a bind I could use a little help. I recently found the joys of computer message boards. I am presently getting a beating over the textual differences in the NT Greek MMS by a very well informed Muslim. The numbers he throws at me by 19th century Bible scholars, over what percentage of the NT MMS are in agreement, look fishy to me, but I can not find the refute to them.

The site where I am getting licked is here -

You can follow the message links by clicking "View Replies" near the bottom and see how badly I am sinking. I need a good site, to refute some of this stuff (I can handle the Koran questions; I'm just getting hit right and left over the differences between the NT mss.) I promise, PROMISE, I will not come running to you again with these types of self inflicted problems after this. Thanks for any and all help or advice!!!!

Your Fool in Christ.

Well, I really don't have the time to participate in the discussion in detail. But I will say this: yes there are a great number of differences between the manuscripts, thousands of them in fact. However, when you look them over, the vast majority of them are extremely minor. About half are so minor that they would not show up in any translation. About half of the remaining ones are so minor that they would only show up in the most literal of translations (such as my ALT). And out of the ones which would show up in any translation, again, most are very minor. But there are some significant differences. But as a percentage of the NT, these are very small.

To put some numbers on these, I compared three published Greek texts: the MT, the TR, and the CT in working on the ALT. Now all three of these have already "weeded out" the variants that are most obviously mistakes (which generally only in occur in one manuscript). And it is due to the great number of these that the total number he is using could be accurate. But again, any scholar using any textual criticism method would recognize and reject them.

But once these are eliminated, the following are approximate numbers for differences between the three published Greek texts:

Greek Texts

Total Variants

Translatable Variants

Significant Variants

MT vs. TR:




MT vs. CT:




CT vs. TR:




Note that most of these variants affect only one letter or word, but some affect a phrase, and a few an entire verse.

To get an idea what I mean by all of the above, see the variants section of my ALT pages. Be sure to read the Introduction as it details why so many of the variants are so minor that they are not even translatable.

And finally, note that the reason why there are so many variants between the manuscripts is there are so many manuscripts to compare, about 5000 of them. But the great number of NT manuscripts enable mistakes to be easily weeded out. 

I hope the above is helpful.

>Dear Gary,

Thank you for your reply. I had already used your site, and information on some others but it got a sneer of a reaction. I have just found out that some other Christians, with a lot more knowledge of the NT mss then I, is already engaging in a debate with the guy on that subject so I am pulling out. I have called a time out. I am way behind in my reading. I invited him to write to me at my email address and not squabble over religion. The man is sharp, and I would just like to know more about him.  If we can agree to disagree, this may lead to more civil exchanges in the future. Thank you for responding. Please let me know when your translation goes to press.


May God bless you in your studies and any further correspondence you have with him. The ALT should be available in hardcopy format by the summer of 2001. When it is ready it will be available from the publisher AuthorHouse and from conventional and online bookstores.

>Dear Gary,

The Majority text includes the word "wife" in Mathew 19:29.  Is this to suggest that it is ok to leave or divorce your wife if she does not believe in Christ?  The Critical text does not include the word "wife" in Mathew 19:29.  Which version is correct?


Paul, of course, makes it clear that a believer is not to leave an unbelieving spouse (1Cor 7:10-16). So this verse couldn't be teaching otherwise. What it is probably referring to is the real possibility that the unbelieving spouse might leave the believing spouse.

I know the word "left" refers to all people in the sentence, but it would have been awkward for Jesus to have said "has left houses, or brothers ..., or whose wife leaves him." It would be simpler to just to list all the possible relationships that might end when one becomes a Christian.

As for which version is correct, I would say it is because of possible confusion that the inclusion of the word could cause that a scribe probably omitted it. It seems strange that someone would add the word given the difficulties.

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