Do I Need a Dictionary to Study Textual Criticism?

This entry is part 20 of 36 in the series What is Textual Criticism?

I started the series What is Textual Criticism? by explaining what a textual variant is1, how they get into the text and how they affect the text. The preceding 19 articles are just an introduction to explain why New Testament Textual Criticism (NTTC) is needed. Before getting to NTTC, I thought I’d post a glossary I’ve been working on. It’s helped me keep track of the terms that are used in this field of study. This is not an exhaustive list of terms, nor are the definitions comprehensive.

Apparatus – A list of the most plausible variant readings, along with a list of the manuscripts that support the readings. The apparatus is usually presented as footnotes to the text.

Base Text – The wording textual scholars believe is the most likely to be original. Less plausible options will be shown in the apparatus.

Collate – To study and compare manuscript variations in a text (book, chapter or verse), and record the manuscripts supporting the variations.

Conflation – When there are two (or more) possible readings and a scribe is uncertain which was original, the two may be combined into a single reading. For example, some early manuscripts may have “the Lord”, while other early manuscripts may have “Jesus” at the same location. Later manuscripts may combine them to “the Lord Jesus”.

Conjectural Emendation – A hypothetical reading of a text when none of the readings in existing manuscripts seem plausible. Conjectural Emendation is used much more in non-Biblical texts, where there are few ancient manuscripts, than in New Testament studies where there are many existing copies.

Conservative – Generally a high view of the Greek text as preserved in the Byzantine Text Type, Majority Text or Textus Receptus.

Corruption – Wording textual critics believe is very unlikely to be original to the text.

Critical Apparatus – See Apparatus.

Eclectic – Each variation is evaluated in its own merit, rather than always using one in the preferred source text (exemplar).

Eclectic Edition – An attempt to reconstruct the original text of a book using the most reliable readings from all of the resources available. The Critical Apparatus is usually included.

Exemplar – The source document a scribe copies from.

External Evidence – Evidence from outside the text to support a textual reading. This can include the number of other manuscripts which support the same reading, the age of those manuscripts and the locations the manuscripts are written in. Quotes from church fathers and non-Christian historians are also external evidence. See Internal Evidence.

Family – Group of related manuscripts, based on close similarity of the text.

  • f1 (a family of manuscripts including 1, 118, 131, 209) Gospels; twelfth-fourteenth century C.E.

Fission – Incorrectly splitting words, so one word is written as two words.2 See Fusion.

Fusion – Incorrectly combining words, so two words are written as one word.3 See Fission.

Genealogy – The relationships between manuscripts, such as identifying the exemplars/sources for a manuscript, also called the ancestors. Copies made from an exemplar are called descendents.

Gloss – An explanatory note. Some notes may have been written in the margin by an early scribe, then added to the main text by a later scribe.

Haplography – The accidental removal of a letter, word or phrase when it appears twice in close proximity. See related Parablepsis.

Harmonization – Changing one passage to make it similar to another. This is most common in parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels.

Homoeoarcton (Homoioarcton, Homoioarkton) – When two lines start with the same letters and the scribe accidentally skips one of the lines. See related Parablepsis.

Homoeoteleuton (Homoioteleuton) – When two lines end with the same letters and the scribe accidentally skips one of the lines. See related Parablepsis.

Homophony – Words which sound alike, but are spelled differently. e.g. in English, There, Their and They’re. This type of error was especially common when a lector read the text and scribes copied it down.

Initial Text – The text written by the original authors (i.e. The Apostles), or exact copies of the text.

Interliner – Space between rows of text where corrections could be written.

Internal Evidence – Evidence from the text of the document supporting a textual variant. This can include the style of writing of the author or scribe (grammar, spelling, etc.), style of thought of the author or scribe, theology (does the author write something similar in another location, etc.), subject being written about, intended audience, etc. See External Evidence.

Itacism –  Different Greek letters that are pronounced similarly. See Homophony.

Lacuna – A missing portion of text in a manuscript. Entire leaves may be missing, or leaves may be damaged, with some text unreadable. Text which was never copied into a manuscript (i.e. a scribe accidentally missing a line) is not referred to as lacunae.

Lectio Brevior – Latin for “shorter reading”. Textual scholars believe scribes were more likely to add words to explain a difficult passage, rather than to remove words intentionally. Therefore, a shorter reading is more likely to be original than a longer reading (with other considerations being equal).

Lectio Difficilior – Latin for “difficult reading”, or harder reading. Textual scholars believe scribes were more likely to make a difficult passage easier to understand, rather than to make a clear passage more difficult to understand. Therefore, a difficult reading is more likely to be original than an easy reading (with other considerations being equal), if the more difficult reading is appropriate to the context.

Lemma – A base word, from which other forms can be created. For example, in English, the lemma run can be used to create the words run, runs, running and ran.

Majority Text – A New Testament varient reading which is found in most ancient Greek manuscripts. Most of the Majority Text comes from the Byzantine text type. Majority Text is based primarily on external evidence rather than internal evidence. Designated Maj.

Metathesis – Accidentally switching the order of letters or word. Word order in Greek its less important than in many other languages.

Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece – A critical edition of the Greek New Testament. The 28th edition of the Greek New Testament (NA28) and UBS5 have same text, but NA has more variants, while UBS is aimed at translators and has meaningful variants.

Original Text – The goal of many Textual Critics is to find the exact words the Apostles wrote, not just the meaning of the text. There are three basic ways “original text” can be used.

  • The wording in the manuscript written by the author, or under the direct authority of the author.
  • An accurate copy of the author’s wording.
  • An inaccurate copy of the author’s wording creates a new original text.4

Orthography – The study of spellings.

Parablepsis – From Greek meaning “to look at the side”. This occurs when a scribe misses some of the text in the source, resulting in copying errors called Haplography, Homoeoarcton or Homoeoteleuton.

Reading – The wording of a passage in a specific manuscript.

Recension – A deliberate attempt to update a text for a specific purpose. Some are intended to be benign (e.g. fix spelling or grammar errors), while others can change the understanding of the text (e.g. Judaizing or Christianizing tendencies).

Sigla (singular) / Siglum (plural) – Symbols used to identify specific manuscripts in a textual apparatus. Examples:

  • 𝔓52/P52 – John Rylands Papyrus
  • 𝔓72/P72 – Papyrus Bodmer VII-VIII
  • ℵ/01- Codex Sinaiticus
  • A/02 – Codex Alexandrinus
  • B/03 – Codex Vaticanus
  • Γ/036 – Codex Tischendorfianus IV
  • Δ/037 – Codex Sangallensis 48

Singular Reading – A textual reading found in only one manuscript.

Stemma – The family tree of a group of manuscripts, or how manuscripts are related based on similarities and date of the text. The stemma is largely based on guesswork, because so little is known about most ancient manuscripts.

Text – The wording or content of a manuscript. A text may appear in more than one manuscript5. See Witness.

Text Type – Manuscripts that have many similarities in their textual variants are considered to be the same text type. Manuscripts that have few similarities in their textual variants are considered to be different text types. Text Types are loosely based on geographical areas, where the text type was predominately used. None of the are considered to be exactly the same as the original autographs.

  • Category I/Alexandrian – The oldest existing manuscripts are Alexandrian, and many scholars believe it’s closest to the original readings.
  • Category II/Egyptian – Mixture of Category I/Alexandrian and Category V/Byzantine readings. Few manuscripts use this text type.
  • Category III/Eclectic (Caesarean) – Mixture of Category I/Alexandrian and Category IV/Western readings. Uses more paraphrases than other text types. Few manuscripts use this text type.
  • Category IV/Western – Defined by readings found in Codex Bezae. Paraphrases are common. Very few manuscripts are Category IV.
  • Category V/Byzantine – Spelling and grammar are more consistent internally, which makes many scholars believe it has been edited and probably isn’t original. Most manuscripts of late date are Byzantine, and the Majority Text is often based on it.

Textual Apparatus – See Apparatus.

Textual Mixture – A text which has elements from multiple text types or manuscripts.

Textual Critic – A scholar who’s goal is to recreate the earliest possible text of the New Testament, based on later manuscripts.

Textual Criticism – The study of variant readings in the New Testament, with the goal of finding the reading which is most likely to be original to the author. Ancient manuscripts and writing by the church fathers are the primary sources used in textual criticism.6

Transcriptional Error – Any error which occurs when copying text. Errors range from spelling mistakes, to adding words or removing word, whether accidentally or intentionally.

United Bible Societies Greek New Testament – A Critical Edition of the Greek New Testament. The 5th edition of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (UBS5) is the same as the 28th edition of Nestle-Aland (NA28), but their critical apparatuses are targeted toward different groups of people. UBS5 is focused on people working on Bible Translations.

Variant Reading – The difference in wording when two or more manuscripts disagree on the text in the passage.

Variant Unit – The place in a passage where two or more manuscripts disagree on the text in the passage. A variant unit may be from a single word to several verses in length.

Vorlage – A hypothetical reconstruction of a text, usually in a source language different from the language being studied. i.e. When studying the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible), a scholar may try to create a vorlage of the Hebrew text the translators used.

Witness – The source the scribe or critical scholar is referencing. This can be a specific manuscript, the text on a manuscript, or a combination of the media and the text.



Series Navigation<< What are the Most Important New Testament Manuscripts?What is New Testament Textual Criticism? >>


  1. What are Textual Variants?
  2. Most ancient Greek manuscripts did not use spaces or punctuation.
  3. Most ancient Greek manuscripts did not use spaces or punctuation.
  4. Proposed by atheist Bart D. Ehrman in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
  5. Ideally, every Greek New Testament would be a perfect copy of the autographs, so they would all have the same text.
  6. Criticism: the work or activity of making fair, careful judgements about the good and bad qualities of somebody/something, especially books, music, etc. (Oxford Learners Dictionary, 2nd definition)

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