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The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism

the lectionaries have not been very carefully studied, and they are rarely used in textual
criticism. Since this article is intended to be short, we will say no more about them.
A list of some of the more important New Testament manuscripts is found below, and
there are detailed articles elsewhere in the Encyclopedia.
In addition to the Greek manuscripts, we have the testimony of the “Versions” — the
ancient translations of the Greek New Testament. These are highly valuable in some
ways — they are usually early (the oldest Latin, Syriac, and Coptic versions date from
the second to fourth centuries, and the Armenian probably to the ?fth), and we know
what part of the world they come from. But they also have drawbacks: No translation,
even if precise and literal (and not all these translations are) can exactly render the
wording of the Greek original. Also, the versions have a textual history of their own,
which means we have to reconstruct their readings. Finally, it is worth remembering
that, although a version may exist in thousands of copies, it is usually translated from no
more than a handful of Greek originals. Thus the versions are very important for
determining the history of a variant reading, but sometimes less useful for determining
the original text.
The ?nal class of witnesses normally mentioned is the testimony of quotations in the
Church Fathers. This is an amazingly rich resource — many, many authors quoted the
New Testament over the centuries. And we usually know with fair precision both the
date of the quotation and the place where the author wrote. Unfortunately, the authors
often cited loosely, adding, paraphrasing, or omitting as they saw ?t; they did not cite in
order, they rarely cited long passages; and in any case, their works, just like the
manuscripts themselves, have been subject to copying and corruption over the years.
Hence the Fathers, like the versions, are best used to establish the history of the text.
A fourth class of witnesses, not normally mentioned in New Testament criticism because
they have so small a role, are Imitations.
Printed Versions of the New Testament
The ?rst complete New Testament to be published was the edition of Desiderius
Erasmus, now known as the Textus Receptus (“The text received [by all]” — a phrase
derived from an advertising blurb in a later edition!). This was published, with great
haste and on the basis of only a handful of late manuscripts, in 1516 (the printer wanted
to beat a rival edition onto the market, and so hurried Erasmus and then pushed the
edition through the press without proper oversight). Yet it formed the basis for all Greek
editions for over three centuries; Luther's German translation and the English King
James Version (as well as most of the English editions preceding the KJV) were
translated from editions of the Textus Receptus.
The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism