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Chapter 9

The Manuscripts 

 

Today there are available over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of all or portions of the New Testament. When the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople in 1453, scholars of the Byzantine culture centered there fled to western Europe, bringing with them ancient manuscripts of every kind. It was the reading of these manuscripts that stimulated the Renaissance which spread throughout Europe, opening the continent once more to scholarly endeavors and dispelling the gross ignorance of the Dark Ages, which testified to the consequences of Romeís apostate influence. Centuries of suppression of Godís Word had reduced Europeans to a race of ignorant, illiterate, backward people. Vast areas of knowledge were totally lost. Such is the result of apostasy.

Most precious among the Byzantine manuscripts rescued from the attacking Turks and brought to the West were the manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. The Byzantine era lasted longer than a millennium, stretching from A.D. 312 until 1435. The Turks who founded the Ottoman Empire were a fierce people from the steppes of Asia, north of China in the region still known as Turkestan. Under their fierce and ruthless leader, Tamberlane, they had ravished many lands including China; others were destroyed along their triumphal march toward Europe. Tamberlane the Great, as he was known, adopted a scorched-earth policy. Every human, every animal was murdered, every dwelling, every building destroyed, every aspect of vegetation removed. Eventually the Greeks were overthrown in Asia Minor, only the Cypriot Greeks remaining as a remnant of the once vast Greek civilization in that region, the civilization which had dominated during apostolic times. In fact, nomadic Turks had been infiltrating Asia Minor since about the seventh century.

Subsequently the Turks conquered as far as central Europe, and on three occasions stood at the gates of Vienna, threatening the very existence of the Holy Roman Empire. Remnants of those conquests are seen in the communities of Moslems still found in significant numbers in Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.

Tamberlane, who was born fifty miles north of Samarkand of Turko-Mongol stock in 1336, conquered Persia by 1385 and Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Mesopotamia by 1394. In 1398 he invaded India on the pretext that the Moslem rulers were too lenient to Hindus, and he razed Delhi to the ground. By 1401 he had overrun Baghdad and taken Syria, and the following year he defeated the Egyptian army. Tamberlane, sometimes known as Timur, died in 1405 while invading China. Some have ascribed the arid Gobi desert to the scorched-earth policy adopted by his soldiers, and certainly he was responsible for the almost total obliteration of the strong Christian church in western China.

God in His infinite wisdom permitted the Turks to overrun Constantinople to the frontiers of Greek knowledge. Scholars fled Constantinople with all the Scriptures they could save. And thus Western Europe, bathed in Catholic darkness, received the pure light of His Word. His hand prevented the total overthrow of Europe, and thus preserved the Christian flame. In those Greek New Testament manuscripts from Constantinople lay the pure writings of the New Testament uncorrupted by scribes and theologians in the West.

The known manuscripts consist of ninety papyrus fragments dated between the second and eighth centuries, 270 uncial copies dated between the third and the tenth centuries, 2,800 minuscules copied between the ninth and sixteenth centuries, and around 2,000 lectionary copies.1

The vast majority of these manuscripts, well over ninety-five percent, are in such close agreement as to be to all intents and purposes identical. The remainder, representing the Western stream of manuscripts, are clearly defective. Yet it is these defective copies upon which almost all modern translators place their trust. But the Reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made no such error.

Enormous support for the majority text is found in Armenian, Ethiopic, Gothic, Latin, and Syriac translations, some predating the earliest Greek manuscripts. For example, in the nineteenth century, following the texts of the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, many passages of the New Testament have been altered. But more recently discovered papyrus fragments have confirmed the majority text. Nineteenth-century biblical scholars claimed that much of the first fourteen chapters of the Gospel of John was corrupted by scribes in the later Byzantine Era. This claim was shown to be utterly false by the discovery of Papyrus Bodmer II. Dated about A.D. 200, prior to the commencement of the Byzantine Era, this Papyrus verified many of the disputed passages attributed to late Byzantine copyists and demonstrated that these passages were present in very early manuscripts.

Other sources of verification of the Byzantine Greek Text are the writings of the early church fathers. These men frequently quoted from Scripture and their writings, going back to the second century, overwhelmingly support the majority text.

Even the chairman of the committee which produced the Revised Version was honest enough to write:

The manuscripts which Erasmus used differ for the most part only in small and insignificant details from the great bulk of the cursive MSS. The general character of the text is the same. By this observation the pedigree of the Received Text is carried up beyond the individual manuscripts used by Erasmus. . . . that pedigree stretches back to remote antiquity. The first ancestor of the Received Text was at least contemporary with the oldest of our extant MSS, if not older than any one of them. Bishop Ellicott, The Revisers of the Greek Text of the N.T. by Two Members of the N.T. Company, 11-12

To denigrate the majority text, Westcott and Hort introduced the Syrian Recension theory. They postulated that some time in the third or fourth centuries the Syrian copyists had mutilated the original New Testament, and that these mutilated texts became the basis for the Textus Receptus.

One problem which Westcott and Hort faced was that the ancient Peshitta Syriac translation, which undeniably predated the third century, agreed essentially with the Textus Receptus and not with the Codex Vaticanus. Westcott and Hort overcame this apparently insurmountable objection to their postulate by declaring the Peshitta Syriac translation to be of later origin (see Trinitarian Bible Society Article number 13, The Divine Original).

But it is significant to record that earlier Westcott had written that he had discovered

no reason to desert the opinion which has obtained the sanction of the most competent scholars, that the formation of the Peshitta Syriac was to be fixed within the first half of the second century. The very obscurity which hangs over its origin is proof of its venerable age, because it shows that it grew up spontaneously among Christian congregations. . . . Had it been the work of a later date, of the third or fourth century, it is scarcely possible that its history should be as uncertain as it is. Westcott, The New Testament Canon, 1855

Apparently when it was found necessary to support his false hypothesis concerning the accuracy of the Peshitta Syriac, Westcott altered his view, for in his book Introduction to N.T. Greek, published in 1882, Westcott placed the Peshitta Syriac in the latter part of the third century or even in the fourth. Of a certainty the vast bulk of Greek manuscripts confirm the accuracy of the Textus Receptus based upon the Byzantine Greek manuscripts.

1 Uncial copies were written in large letters, all capitals separated one from the other and within a formal style. Minuscules were written in small Greek letters using a cursive style (running writing). Lectionaries were Scriptures divided into a system of lessons to be used for public reading. "It is generally conceded that they preserve a text that is often much older than the actual date of the manuscript might lead one to believe." (Dr. Arthur Ferch, South Pacific Record, March 25, 1989). Papyrus refers to the type of material upon which the manuscript was written. It was made from reeds. <BACK>


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