Notes on the Transmission of the New Testament Text

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The New Testament was written by men inspired of God.

A. 	"All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Tim. 3:16).
B. 	"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is 
	a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came 
	by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke 
	from God" (2 Pet. 1:20-1).

The Epistles were often dictated to an amanuensis (i.e., a scribe or a secretary).

A. 	"I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord" (Rom. 
B. 	"Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written 
	this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true 
	grace of God" (1 Pet. 5:12).

The publishing of these documents came about through various ways.

A. 	The Gospel accounts seem to have been published almost 
	immediately after their writing. A number of copies were made of the 
	original and then these copies were distributed to different churches.
B. 	The Epistles were not published as such. 
	1. 	They were sent to the churches to whom they were addressed. A 
		messenger would usually take these Epistles to their designation.
		a. 	"So that you also may know howl am and what I am doing, 
			Tychicus will tell you 	everything, He is a dear brother a 
			faithful minister in the Lord. I am sending him to you for this 
			very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage 
			your hearts" (Eph. 6:21-22).
		b. 	"Tychicus will tell you all the news about me: he is a 
			beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in 
			the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose,
			so that you may know how we are and that he may 
			encourage your hearts; he is coming with Onesimus, the 
			faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will 
			tell you about everything" (Col. 4:7-9).
	2.	 Each church apparently made a copy of the letter before it was 
		sent to other churches. "And when this letter has been read 
		among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and 
		see that you read also the letter from Laodicea" (Col. 4:16).
	3. 	The authors very likely kept a copy of their own writings. "When 
		you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also 
		the books, and above all the parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13). The 
		books and parchments are possibly copies of Paul's epistles.
C. 	The books of the New Testament were also collected as a group. All 
	the Gospels might be published together, all of Paul's Epistle might be 
	published together, etc.

These documents were then copied by Christians who wanted to keep a copy.

A. 	These books were copied by hand, and, of course, that was a very 
	difficult job.
B. 	At first, the copies were usually made one at a time by people who 
	wanted a copy of a certain book or by scribes who made copies for 
	churches and monasteries.
C. 	Then, it became common for a group of slaves to make several copies 
	at once by dictation.
D. 	Different materials were used in the copying of these biblical texts.
	1. 	The original manuscripts were written on papyrus. Papyrus is a 
		thin and fragile paper which was made from the papyrus plant 
		which grows in Egypt and the Middle East. 
		a.	The originals were written with pen and ink. 
		b.	"I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink" (3 John 13).
	2. 	From the fourth to the twelfth centuries scribes used vellum (thin 
		sheets of calfskin) or parchment (manufactured from sheepskin).

Because these copies were done by hand, it ensured that errors would creep into the text.

A. 	This difficulty can be illustrated by copying and re-copying a biblical 
	passage; it is nearly impossible to copy and re-copy without some 
B. 	Errors did creep into the text. 
	1.	Origen (who was born about AD 202) wrote, "Nowadays, as is 
		evident, there is a great diversity between the various 
		manuscripts, either through the negligence of certain copyists, or 
		the perverse shown by some in correcting the text, or through the 
		fault of those who, playing the part of correctors, lengthen and 
		shorten it as they please."
	2. 	As a result of copying and re-copying differences occur in several 
		a. 	Mark 16:9-20.
		b.	Acts 8:37.
		c.	1 John 5:7.
		d.	Galatians 6:17.
			1)	Early: "the marks of Jesus."
			2)	Late: "the marks of the Lord Jesus."
			3)	Later: "the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ."
			4)	Latest: "the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ."
C. 	No originals exists today. We do not have any copy that the apostles 
	1. 	Thousands of copies have been made.
	2. 	No two copies are exactly the same.
	3. 	However, "The New Testament is probably the most trustworthy 
		piece of writing that has survived from antiquity" (Merrill C. 
		Tenney, New Testament Survey, William B. Eerdmans
		Publishing Co., 1961, p. 417).
		a.	Only nine good manuscripts exist of Caesar's Gallic War. 
			The oldest is more than 900 years older than the original date 
			of writing.
		b. 	Only four-and-a-half copies of Tacitus' Histories are extant 
			today (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, 
			William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980, p. 16).

What type of copies do exist today?

A. 	Papyri fragments. These are fragile manuscripts which date back 
	close to the time of the apostles.
B. 	Uncials. These manuscripts were written on parchment in capital 
	letters (hence their name) and did not contain word division. All 
	manuscripts to the tenth century are uncials.
C. 	Minuscules. These are cursive manuscripts written in small letters. 
	These date from the ninth to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.
D. 	Versions. These were translations taken from Greek into other 
E. 	Patristic quotations. The Church Fathers quoted much of the New 
	Testament in their writings.
F. 	Lectionaries. They were books used in the worship of churches which 
	contained passages from the New Testament.

If no copies of the original documents exist, are we able to rely on the New Testament?

A. 	The work of textual criticism should not bother our faith.
	1. 	The vast majority of differences in the manuscripts concern small 
		matters, e. g. word order (which doesn't substantially affect the 
		meaning in Greek), spelling, grammar, or stylistic details.
	2. 	No textual variant affects New Testament doctrine. We can be 
		assured that we have the teaching of the New Testament. Would 
		someone argue that he did not know for certain the plot of 
		Homer's Odyssey, because the manuscripts differed?
B. 	The work of textual criticism should increase our faith.
	1. 	With all the differences that exist, it is amazing that the 
		manuscripts agree to the extent they do. They agree more than 
		they disagree!
	2. 	God oversaw the transmission of the New Testament. He did not 
		keep the copyists free 	from error, for that would have required a 
		miracle. But he did make sure that the teaching of the New 
		Testament remained intact.
		a. 	"His divine power has given us everything needed for life 
			and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us 
			by his own glory and goodness" (1 Pet. 1:3).
		b. 	God has given us everything we need to live lives pleasing to 
			him. If errors are found in the teachings of the New 
			Testament, 1 Peter 1:3 is a lie.
		3. 	It is amazing to see how well the New Testament came down 
			to us. The hand of God had to be in it!
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