Patristic Evidence

Dr. T. Holland on
'Oldest & Best MSS' (2000)

Excerpt from: Dr. T. Holland, Manuscript Evidence,
Chapter 12, (Internet, 2009)

Page Index

Dr. T Holland: - "Oldest & Best MSS":
    Introduction: Manuscript Evidence
    Older Manuscripts: wild and wooley
    Better Manuscripts: which are which?
       Four Example Variants: with early support
    Vanishing Byzantine Readings: moving the goalposts!
        Mixed Patristic Readings: Hippolytus
    Missing Exemplars: Master-copies destroyed

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Dr. T. Holland on
'Oldest & Best MSS'

Excerpt from: Dr. T. Holland,
Manuscript Evidence,
Chapter 12, (Internet, 2009)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Manuscript Evidence


These two arguments often run together in the footnotes of many modern versions. They are not the same thing. Older is not always better, and the better are not the older. This must be the case for the modern textual critic or else once a text is determined to be the oldest his task of reconstructing the New Testament would cease. Further, as will be seen by example later, some of the older manuscripts reflect a mixed reading of textual families, consequently diminishing the overall emphasis placed on the Alexandrian textual line. For these and other reasons, scholarship must not claim that older is always better. Still, we find that the two do go hand-in-hand in justifying the rejection of the Traditional Text and the English Authorized Version.

Older Manuscripts:

Often the supporters of modern translations will point to the very old papyrus manuscripts. Defiantly as one reads Kurt Aland or Bruce Metzger the patronage for the readings found in the papyrus is apparent. Aland notes that since the 1930's with the number of papyrus manuscripts found they have, "held an almost magical charm, not only for the general public but for New Testament scholars as well, though with no real justification." [2] The early papyrus were discovered in Egypt, south of the Delta region, from such places as Oxyrhynchos, Atfih (Aphroditopolis), and Heracleopolis, off the Nile River. It is also rather ironic that these great papyrus were located in rubbish heaps. [3] This causes us to wonder if they were discarded because they were worn by use, or because they were considered corrupted. In either case, these are the oldest known manuscripts we have to date.

Although most of these papyri are fragmentary, others contain large sections of Scripture and have been given very early dates by paleographers. For example, P75 (containing part of Luke and John) dates from 175 to 225 AD, P66 (containing part of John) dates to about 200 AD, P46 (containing part of Romans and the Pauline epistles) likewise dates to about 200 AD, and P52 (a small fragment containing only John 18:31-33 and 37-38) is considered the oldest manuscript dating to 125 AD. Added to this are Alexandrian uncials of the late third and early fourth centuries (such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus). Further, modern textual critics will point out that Byzantine manuscripts (or the Traditional Greek Text) are not found until about the fourth century with the vast majority of their manuscripts not dating until the ninth century and onward. [4] The argument seems to be a very good one. After all, if we have manuscripts which date closer to the original writings it would seem logical that they are closer in content as well. There is, however, more to be considered.

The four papyri mentioned above are very old indeed. The fact that these manuscripts seem to have originated in Egypt, or at least survived there, and as with other Alexandrian manuscripts were not used by the majority of believers throughout the existence of the Church does not carry much weight with textual scholars. Nor does the fact that these manuscripts are not in agreement. In fact, the early papyrus although considered Alexandrian in nature, really reflect a mixed text with many Byzantine and Western readings within them. Consequently, Aland has labeled P46 and P66 as "free," [5] and Metzger simply calls P66 "mixed." [6] In his introduction to the Chester Beatty Papryi (which contains P46), Sir Frederic Kenyon likewise observes the mixed nature of the early papryi.

Speaking of them, Kenyon notes,

"On the one hand, it is not an out-and-out supporter of the 'Neutral' or Vatican type of text; but neither is it, on the other hand, an out-and-out supporter of the 'Western' type." [7]

In fact, Dr. Eldon Epp has said the study of the papyri, "is largely an exercise in historical-critical imagination." [8]

Notwithstanding, while debating the originality of this or that text, modern scholars will often cite these papyri manuscripts and their age as proof of their arguments when these papyri support their point of view.

This is illustrated by Professor James White in his support of the Alexandrian reading found in John 1:18. As the reader recalls from lesson eleven, this verse concerns the differences in the phrases, "only begotten Son" (Gk: μονογενης υιος), and "only begotten God" (Gk: μονογενης θεος).

White argues:

"Suffice it to say that the most ancient texts, including the oldest existing copies of the book of John, P66 and P75, as well as a number of the early fathers of the church, refer to Christ as the 'only-begotten God,' or more accurately, the 'unique God.'" [9]

In truth, the majority of the early Church Fathers used the phrase "only begotten Son" in regard to John 1:18. Our point here, however, is that White supports his preference for the reading "μονογενης θεος" because "the oldest existing copies of the book of John" have this reading. Yet, their age gives way when these papyri manuscripts agree with the Traditional Text against those found in the Alexandrian Text.

For example, in John 4:1 the Alexandrian manuscripts of Sinaiticus (4th century), Bezae (Codex D, 6th century) and Q (9th century) have the reading "Ιησους" (Jesus) while the Traditional Text reads, "κυριος" (Lord). The vast majority of all Greek manuscripts agree with the reading found in the Authorized Version. Further, we find the reading "κυριος" in Vaticanus (4th century), Alexandrinus (5th century), Codex C (5th century), and the majority of uncial manuscripts. Thus it is no surprise to find both P66 and P75 with the reading "κυριος." Nevertheless, this reading is rejected in the United Bible Societies Greek Text in favor of the reading found in Sinaiticus. Consequently, modern translations such as the NIV and NRSV forsake the early manuscripts in favor of Sinaiticus. There are, of course, many other examples of this sort.

There are also many places where P66 and P75 differ with each other. In such cases, P66 is sometimes chosen, while at other times P75 is cited. The point being that there are several places where these papyri manuscripts agree with the Traditional Text as presented in our English King James Bible over the readings found in the Alexandrian Text and its reflective modern English versions.

Dr. Wilbur Pickering cites the studies of textual scholars Ernest Colwell, Eldon Epp, and Albertus Klijn noting where the papyri agree with the Texus Receptus (TR) against the Alexandrian Text. By using portions in John 10 and 11 where P45, P66 and P75 agree and where Vaticanus and Sinaiticus differ (a total of 43 places), Klijn found the following: 32 times P45 agrees with the TR, 24 times it agrees with Vaticanus, and only 19 does it agree with Sinaiticus. 33 times P66 agrees with the TR, 29 times with Vaticanus, and only 14 times does it agree with Sinaiticus. While P75 agrees with the TR 29 times, Vaticanus 33 times, and Sinaiticus 9 times. [10] It should therefore become painfully clear that those who resort to the age of a manuscript to correct the King James Bible are not consistent in using the older manuscripts.

To the above, we may add the study completed by Dr. Gordon D. Fee concerning Codex Sinaiticus and how it relates to other manuscripts and Greek texts. [11] In his study, Dr. Fee notes several passages in the Gospel of John where Codex Sinaiticus agrees or disagrees with P66, P75, the TR, and some other witnesses. In John chapter four, for example, Fee notes that out of 61 possible textual variations, the TR agrees with P66 a total of 37 times, or 60.6% of the time. Interestingly, P66 agrees with Codex Sinaiticus only 21 times or 34.4% of the time, illustrating that the TR is closer to P66 in this chapter than is Sinaiticus. It is also interesting to note that P75 showed a stronger relationship with the Traditional Text than it did with Codex Sinaiticus; however, its strongest relationship is clearly with Codex Vaticanus. The agreement with P75 among these texts is as follows: TR=32 times or 52.5%. Sinaiticus=19 times or 31.05. Vaticanus=52 times or 85.2%. [12]

Dr. Fee then broadens the study to cover John chapters 1 through 8, with a total of 320 possible textual variations. The statistics show a strong relation between the Traditional Text and the very old manuscripts of P66. In fact, the TR and P66 agree 50.9% of the time when there are textual variations. Comparing P66 with Sinaiticus we find they agree only 43.7% of the time. [13]

All of this information shows that within the very old manuscripts we find variants which occur in the Traditional Text long before the establishing of the Byzantine text in the fourth century. Dr. Fee, who supports modern textual criticism, has in fact stated that in the oldest manuscripts we have Byzantine readings.

He admits to this in a different article refuting Dr. Wilbur Pickering:

"Pickering regularly talks about Byzantine readings as being earlier than Chrysostom--and he is right. That is, readings that eventually become the text of the majority can often be shown to have existed as early as the second century. . . P66, for example, is said to have Byzantine readings. In a sense this is correct in that P66 --and even P75 on rare occasions--is now the earliest evidence for a variant away from the Egyptian text-type that is later to be found in the Majority text. But in comparison with places where P66 reads with the Egyptians against the Byzantines, these "Byzantine" readings are of little consequence; and above all else they do not render P66 a Majority text MS." [14]

Our point here is not that the papyri manuscripts are Majority text manuscripts, but only that one can find textual support for variant readings within these very old manuscripts which support the readings found in the Traditional Text. Further, this allows the student to cite these manuscripts with just as much fervor when these manuscripts support the readings found in the King James Bible. Finally, we can also see that these old papyri manuscripts are not hard-line support for the Alexandrian text, because we find them varying from that family in a number of places. Therefore, when one argues from the perspective of "older manuscripts" the consistency is often lacking.

Before moving on, one additional note should be made at this juncture. Dr. Pickering has made a marvelous observation concerning the prejudice of modern textual scholars regarding their views of textual criticism.

He writes:

"Whenever an early witness surfaces it is declared to be "Alexandrian" or "Western" or "Caesarean" and thereupon those "Syrian" (i.e. Byzantine) readings which it contains cease to be "pure Syrian" and are no longer allowed as evidence. Such a procedure is evidently useful to defenders of Hort's theory, but is it right?" [15]

The "logic" of modern textual scholars is this: There are no Byzantine manuscripts before the fourth century when Lucian of Syria conflated the various readings and produced what became the Byzantine or Traditional Text. We know this is true because we have no Byzantine readings before the middle of the fourth century, but we do have Alexandrian and Western readings. Therefore, any second century reading which supports the third or fourth century readings of the Alexandrian line are considered important and are offered as proof that these textual lines are more original than the Byzantine line. However, if a reading is found in these very same manuscripts which agrees with the fourth century Byzantine reading, it is considered unimportant and unconsequential . The bigotry against the Traditional Text is clearly seen.

Better Manuscripts:

The student of textual criticism will notice that there is a unanimous disregard for the Byzantine text . This is noted by supporters of modern translations and their related Greek texts. Dr. Frederik Wisse writes: "(Kurt) Aland also is not interested in the Byzantine text as such, but only in MSS which significantly diverge from the Byzantine text ." [16] The point is that among such textual scholars the Alexandrian family of manuscripts is considered closer to the original and therefore better. The Byzantine or Traditional Text is considered a conflation (i.e. a mixing or joining) of the Alexandrian and Western texts in the fourth century by Lucian at Antioch in Syria.

This Lucian Recension is considered as much of a fact as evolution is among humanists. However, both are nothing more than theories. The truth is, apart from the promise of Scripture, we simply do not know which text is original and which one is corrupt. Theoretically, it is just as scholastically valid to argue that despite the absence of early Byzantine manuscripts it still reflects the original autographs much better than the Alexandrian line does. Since the Scriptures were meant to be used and read, we would expect these texts to ware out sooner than texts which were considered corrupt and therefore not used by the majority of Christians during the first three hundred years of the existence of the Church. Further, considering the arid conditions of Egypt we would expect these not as often used manuscripts to last longer.

Arguing against this, Dr. Donald A. Carson states:

"This ingenious theory is quite untenable for at least the following reasons: (1) Although it may explain why the autographs disappeared, it cannot explain why there are no extant copies of manuscripts with Byzantine text -type from before the fourth century. If such manuscripts were handled and copied so much that they wore out, then many copies must have been made. Why have none of them survived? (2) The ante-Nicene father unambiguously cited every text-type except the Byzantine. Therefore defenders of the 'worn-out manuscripts' hypothesis must not only base this hypothesis on an argument from silence (there are no early manuscripts with Byzantine text -type), but also pit it against the hard data that the early fathers never unambiguously cited from it. Is it not eminently more reasonable to conclude that manuscripts with Byzantine text simply did not exist for the firs 250-300 years of the church's life? (3) If they did exist, who was wearing them out? If the fathers did not cite the Byzantine text -type, who then was handling these alleged manuscripts so frequently and thoughtlessly that they wore out?" [17]

Dr. Carson's arguments reflect the thoughts of modern textual scholars. His arguments, however, are mistaken.

Carson's first point is that the Traditional Text could not have existed before the fourth century because we have none, and that if there were a great many produced by the Church why have none survived instead of being worn out? To begin with, we have citations from the Church Fathers and from other early translations which contain Byzantine readings. Further, we have already seen where the early papyri reflect a mixed line themselves with Byzantine readings in them.

There is also something else to consider. Carson asks, "If such manuscripts were handled and copied so much that they wore out, then many copies must have been made. Why have none of them survived?" Of course, the opposite would also be true, would it not? If the Alexandrian text is original, or closer to the original, and it were multiplied greatly among the early Church, why is it that only a few copies have survived? Where are the abundance of second century manuscripts supporting the Alexandrian line found outside of Egypt? Or, as we have already noted, why is it that the second century papyri of Egypt are not pure Alexandrian?

Carson's second point that the ante-Nicene fathers did not cite the Byzantine text but did every other text is ambiguous and somewhat absurd. Early in our studies we showed that Ignatius (d. 107 AD) cited 1 Timothy 3:16 as it stands in the Traditional Text. Polycarp (d. 155 AD) cites 1 John 4:3 as we have it in the Byzantine line and the Authorized Version. Also, his citations of Romans 14:10 and Galatians 4:26 do not reflect the Alexandrian readings, but the readings found in the Byzantine manuscripts of the ninth century and onward. Additionally, the early Church Father's preferred the reading "only begotten Son" instead of "only begotten God" in John 1:18, again agreeing with the Traditional Text.

Four Example Variants

Consider the following examples from the four gospels. In each case the reading is Byzantine and is not found in the early Greek texts before the fourth century nor in the reading used in the critical Greek texts. Yet, each reading has its support in either Apostolic or ante-Nicene times with more than one early church source.

Matthew 27:34

"They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink."(KJV)

"They gave him wine to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted it, he would not drink." (ASV)

"Pierces all round; and to the tree Himself Is fixed; wine drugged with myrrh, is drunk, and gall Is mixed with vinegar; parted His robe, And in it lots are cast; what for himself Each one hath seized he keeps; in murky gloom,"

(Tertullian--220 AD, General Reply To Sundry of Marcion's Heresies, 230. Likewise, this is so cited by Irenaeus, Celsus, Origen, Eusebius, the Gospel of Peter and the Epistle of Barnabas.)

Mark 1:2

"As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (KJV)

"Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way." (ASV)

"Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, . . ." Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets, and point out Him at once, whom they confessed as God and Lord; "

(Irenaeus --202 AD, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book III: Chapt. 10:5. This is likewise cited by Origen, Porphyry, Eusebius, and Titus of Bostra.)

Luke 1:28

"And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." (KJV)

"And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee." (ASV)

"I recognize, too, the angel Gabriel as having been sent to "a virgin." But when he is blessing her, it is "among women," not among virgins, that he ranks her: "Blessed (be) thou among women." The angel withal knew that even a virgin is called a woman."

(Tertullian--220 AD, On The Veiling of Virgins, Chapter 6. Also cited by Africanus, Eusebius, Ephraem, and in the Diatessaron).

John 5:4

"For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had." (KJV)

This verse is omitted in modern versions:

"And there were laid in them much people of the sick, and blind, and lame, and paralysed, waiting for the moving of the water. And the angel from time to time went down into the place of bathing, and moved the water; and the first that went down after the moving of the water, every pain that he had was healed. And a man was there who had a disease for thirty-eight years."

(Tatian's Diatessaron, Section 22: 12-14. 2nd century. Additionally, this is also cited by Tertullian, Ambrose, Didymus, and Chrysostom).

Vanishing Byzantine Readings

When confronted with such evidence, there are usually two responses. First, it will be noted that the readings which agree with the Traditional Text are not purely Byzantine. However, it is hard to find a Church Father who was purely Western or Alexandrian. Origen, for example, has been shown to use Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine text s throughout his writings.

Dr. Edward Hills has noted this in reference to the first fourteen chapters of St. John:

"Hence, contrary to the assertions of the naturalistic critics, the distinctive readings of the Traditional (Byzantine) Text were known to Origen, who sometimes adopted them, though perhaps not usually. Anyone can verify this by scanning the apparatus of Tischendorf . . . out of 52 instances in which the Traditional Text stands alone Origen agrees with the Traditional Text 20 times and disagrees with it 32 times. These results make the position of the critics that Origen knew nothing of the Traditional Text difficult indeed to maintain." [18]

Secondly, the response by textual critics will often state that the editions of the Church Fathers has been altered throughout time in order to correspond with the Traditional Text.

In regard to Patristic quotations, Sir Frederic Kenyon wrote:

". . . even when the earliest manuscripts of an author have been consulted, we cannot always be sure that we have his Scriptural quotations in their original form. In no part of his text is corruption so likely to creep in as here. A scribe who recognized a quotation from its first words would be only too likely to write it down from memory, without looking too closely at the MS. before him, and so would give it in the form in which it was current in his own day, instead of in that which his author actually used. Or, supposing he noticed that the form of the quotation was unfamiliar, he might very probably alter it into what he believed to be the true form." [19]

Thus, with such argumentation built on supposition, citations of the early Church Fathers which match the Traditional Text are dismissed. However, the argument does not stand in the light of evidence.

Again, referring to Origen's use of the Traditional Text, Hills notes:

"In these chapters (John 1-14) 7 out of 20 "distinctively" Traditional readings which occur in Origen occur also in Papyrus 66 and/or in Papyrus 75. These 7 readings at least must have been Origen's own readings, not those of the scribes who copied Origen's works, and what is true of these 7 readings is probably true of the other 13, or at least of most of them. Thus it can hardly be denied that the Traditional Text was known to Origen and that it influenced the wording of his New Testament quotations." [20]

Mixed Readings in Hippolytus

Nor does Kenyon's prejudice against the Traditional Text explain the following example:

Saint Hippolytus (235 AD) quotes all of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. His citation shows a mixture of both Alexandrian and Byzantine readings.

We find Hippolytus using Alexandrian phrases such as, "the day of the Lord is at hand" instead of the Traditional Text, "the day of Christ is at hand." We also find the reading, "so that he sitteth in the temple of God" instead of "so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God" (KJV). These readings would cause one to claim that Hippolytus was citing the Alexandrian Text.

However, we also have Byzantine readings. For example, he speaks of, "the son of perdition" (Gk: αμαρτιας) instead of the Alexandrian, "man of lawlessness" (Gk: ανομιας). He also uses the future tense in stating, "God shall send" (Gk: πεμθει) instead of the present, "God sends" (Gk: πεμπει). What is even more interesting is a mixture of both lines in one phrase. The Alexandrian Text reads, "whom the Lord Jesus will slay." The Traditional Text reads, "whom the Lord shall consume."

Hippolytus writes, "whom the Lord Jesus shall consume." If a scribe were changing the text, why did he use such a mixed reading?

Missing Exemplars: Destroyed

Finally, Dr. Carson's third point loses much of his argument. He asks,

"If they (i.e. Byzantine text s before the fourth century) did exist, who was wearing them out?"

The answer is apparent; the believers who used them wore them out. Carson further asks,

"If the fathers did not cite the Byzantine text -type, who then was handling these alleged manuscripts so frequently and thoughtlessly that they wore out?"

The fathers were using them as were the early believers. However, simply because they wore out does not reflect thoughtlessness. I personally have worn out leather bound Bibles printed on high quality paper. When you use something, it tends to wear faster than things not used.

Immediately before stating his three objections to the idea that used manuscripts tend to wear out faster than unused manuscripts, Carson argues against the use of a Byzantine exemplar before the fourth century. An exemplar was the master copy used by scribes to reproduce the text they are working on. However, our study of Old Testament textual criticism shows that it is not at all hard to believe. In fact, it is not only possible but is very likely. The Jewish scribes who copied the Masoretic Text used an exemplar and then destroyed the exemplar once it had served its purpose. He did this out of respect for the text, much as a dedicated serviceman would bury an old and worn flag.

Further, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we see that it is possible for a textual line to have no evidence of existence for almost one-thousand years and yet remain faithful to its textual family. After all, until we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and the manuscripts found at Wadi Murabbaat in 1951, all we had of the Masoretic family came from the middle ages. Even if we did not have citations from the early Church Fathers or early translations of Scripture reflecting the Traditional Text, it is not impossible to believe in a two-hundred-fifty year gap in light of a thousand year one.

Original Footnotes:

2 Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text Of The New Testament, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 84.
3 Eldon Jay Epp, "A Dynamic View of Textual Transmission," in Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism, eds. Eldon Jay Epp and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 279.
4 Ibid., 82. Also, this chart of Aland's has been reproduced in James White's book, The King James Only Controversy, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995), 188.
5 Aland, 99-100.
6 Metzger, 254.
7 Sir. Frederic G. Kenyon, The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri:Fasciculus I (London: Emory Walker, 1933), 16.
8 Epp, 274.
9 White, 199-200.
10 Wilbur N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1977), 54-56.
11 Gordon D. Fee, "Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A contribution to methodology in establishing textual relationships," in Studies In The Theory And Method Of New Testament Textual Criticism, 221-243.
12 Ibid., 228.
13 Ibid., 233.
14 Ibid., "The Majority Text and the Original Text of the NT", 201.
15 Pickering, 71.
16 Frederik Wisse, The Profile Method For Classifying And Evaluating Manuscript Evidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 21.
17 D. A. Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 47.
18 Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended (1956; reprint, Des Moines: The Christian Research Press, 1984), 171-172.
19 Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook To The Textual Criticism Of The New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1926), 244.
20 Hills, 172.

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