How do New Testament Text Types Compare?


Last week’s article, What are New Testament Text Types?, gave a brief overview of what text types are in New Testament Textual Criticism. Below is a list of the differences in text types, and some of the most important manuscripts for each type.

Category I – Alexandrian text type

  • High quality manuscripts that should always be consulted
  • Generally found in Northern Egypt, particularly from the city of Alexandria, which was known for its library and the high-level of scholarship practiced in the library
  • Many modern translations are based on Alexandrian texts
  • Features
    • Short readings
    • Often the reading which best explains how other readings can be explained
    • Relatively free of harmonization and paraphrases
    • Grammar and style are less polished
    • Has readings that can be difficult to understand
  • Used by Church Fathers: Clement, Origen of Alexandria 
  • Manuscripts were stored in dry Egyptian climate, which may explain why the papyrus lasted so long
  • Represent the earliest known manuscripts, some from A.D. 100-200.
  • Sample of Important Manuscripts
  • More information: Alexandrian Text-Type of Greek New Testament Manuscripts (Christian Publishing House)

Though most scholars have abandoned Hort’s optimistic view that Codex Vaticanus (B) contains the original text almost unchanged except for slips of the pen, they are still inclined to regard the Alexandrian text as on the whole the best ancient recension [revision of a text] and the one most nearly approximating the original.1

Category II – Egyptian

  • High quality manuscripts
  • Primarily using the Category I/Alexandrian text type, but with influence from other text types, particularly Category V/Byzantine
  • Relatively few manuscripts, but dates range from A.D. 300-1499
  • Sample of Important Manuscripts

Category III – Eclectic (Caesarean)

Category IV – Western

The chief characteristic of Western readings is fondness for paraphrase. Words, clauses, and even whole sentences are freely changed, omitted, or inserted. Sometimes the motive appears to have been harmonization, while at other times it was the enrichment of the narrative by the inclusion of traditional or apocryphal material. Some readings involve quite trivial alterations for which no special reason can be assigned.2

Category V – Byzantine

The framers of this [Byzantine] text [type] sought to smooth away any harshness of language, to combine two or more divergent readings into one expanded reading (called conflation), and to harmonize divergent parallel passages.3

Conclusion

The Alexandrian text-type is the earliest and reflects the work of professional and semi-professional scribes who treated the copying process with respect. The text is simple, without added material, and lacking the grammatical, stylistic polish sometimes imposed by Byzantine scribes. The Western text-type is early second century. These manuscripts reflect the work of scribes that were given to paraphrasing. Scribes freely changed words, phrases, clauses, and whole sentences as they felt it necessary. At times, they were simply trying to harmonize the text, or even add apocryphal material to spice it up. The Caesarean text-type is a mixture of Western and Alexandrian readings. The Byzantine text-type shows the hand of scribes who, as noted, attempted to smooth out both grammar and style, often with a view to making the text easier to understand. These scribes also combined differing readings from other manuscripts that contained variants. The period of 50 to 350 C.E. certainly saw its share of errors (variants) entering into the text, but the era of corruption is the period when the Byzantine text would become the standard text.4

Resources

  1. Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Third Enlarged Edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992) 216.
  2. Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, third edition (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1975) Page xviii.
  3. Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, third edition (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1975) Page xx.
  4. Wilkins, Don and Edward D. Andrews. The Text of the New Testament: The Science and Art of Textual Criticism (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2017; Kindle) Page 340-341. (Amazon)

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