What is the Gregory-Aland Numbering System?


Prior to the K-Liste (What is the Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments?), there were several different systems for cataloging New Testament manuscripts, which created confusion and inconsistencies for scholars. For a while, Latin letters were used (i.e. Codex Vaticanus is ‘B’), but when there were more manuscripts than letters in the Latin alphabet, some people started using Greek letters (i.e. Codex Sangallensis is ‘Δ’) and one person used a Hebrew letter (Codex Sinaiticus is ‘א’). These problems prompted the standardization of New Testament numbering.

German scholar Caspar René Gregory wrote Die griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments (The Greek manuscripts of the New Testament), published in 1908, in an attempt to standardize the numbers used to keep track of manuscripts. In 1963, Kurt Aland expanded Gregory’s work, and the Gregory-Aland (GA) numbers became the industry standard for referencing Greek New Testament manuscripts (other languages use different systems). The GA numbers put each manuscript into one of four categories:

  • Papyrus manuscripts start with a P and have a number. Formally, a Gothic/Black-letter P with superscript number should be used, but some systems don’t display that format properly, so it’s common to use a regular letter and numbers. (i.e. John Rylands Papyrus \mathfrak {P}^{52} (P52)).
  • Manuscripts using Uncial (Majuscule) letters (similar to capital letters) start with a 0 (i.e. Codex Sinaiticus 01).
  • Manuscripts using Minuscule letters (similar to lower case letters) have only a number; there is no prefix. (i.e. 365).
  • Lectionaries have an L in front of the number (a cursive ℓ is preferred, but doesn’t display correctly in some web browsers) (i.e. ℓ2005 (L2005)).

They way these are categorized is a bit odd. The first category (papyrus) is based on the media the text is written on. The second (uncial) and third (minuscule) categories are based on the style of lettering. The fourth category (lectionary) is based on the contents, not the media or lettering style.

The order of the categories is generally the order in which the texts evolved over the centuries. Papyrus was used from very early times (likely 2,000 B.C. or earlier, primarily in Egypt), up through about A.D. 200-400. Uncial script was used from about A.D. 300-900. Minuscule script became popular about A.D. 800, and is still in use today. Lectionaries of one sort or another go back over two thousand year, so it’s hard to identify a start date. The modern New Testament Lectionary, which organizes the reading by the time of year (i.e. Christmas, Easter, Harvest, etc.), possibly dates back to A.D. 700-800.

The chart shows the different categories broken out by century. You can see the general change in the distribution of categories over the centuries. The Greek New Testament was first published on a printing press (rather than being hand written) in 1516 by Erasmus1, so I only included manuscripts up to the 16th century (1500-1599). The age of some Greek manuscripts is unknown, so those aren’t included either. The resource I used to create this chart and table is from 2015, so it is a few years old2.3

Greek New Testament Manuscripts, Age and Gregory-Aland Types
Resources

Footnotes

  1. Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bible in 1455, which was in Latin. (What is the Gutenberg Bible?)
  2. Brannan, Rick. New Testament Manuscript Explorer (Logos Bible Software, version 8.8; NTME 2015)
  3. Greek New Testament Manuscripts, Age and Gregory-Aland Types

    Century (Years)PapyrusUncialMinusculeLectionaryTotal
    2nd (100-199)617
    3rd (200-299)60363
    4th (300-399)2625152
    5th (400-499)1053265
    6th (500-599)1959381
    7th (600-699)935145
    8th (700-799)2292051
    9th (800-899)5818124200
    10th (900-999)19161165345
    11th (1000-1099)1467315783
    12th (1100-1199)5925111103
    13th (1200-1299)6074191026
    14th (1300-1399)525325850
    15th (1400-1499)243187430
    16th (1500-1599)148206354
    Total132283276122795455
    Data from: Brannan, Rick. New Testament Manuscript Explorer (Logos Bible Software, version 8.8; NTME 2015); Table from: BibleQuestions.info

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