I have talked about how the Greek New Testament was first published by Erasmus in 1516, and about how scholars began to realize, soon after that, just how many differences there were in our surviving manuscripts, with a key moment coming in 1707 with the publication of John Mill’s Greek New Testament, which noted 30,000 places where the manuscripts Mill had examined had alternative readings.    I should stress, Mill did not cite every place he found a difference in the manuscripts.  Only the differences he thought were significant.  Really.

So where do we stand today?   Here is my summary of the modern textual situation, over three hundred years later, as drawn from my book Misquoting Jesus.


Whereas Mill knew of or examined some 100 Greek manuscripts to uncover his 30,000 variations, today we know of far, far more.  At last count there have been over 5700 Greek manuscripts discovered and catalogued.  That’s fifty-seven times as many as Mill knew about in 1707.  These 5700 include everything from the smallest fragments of manuscripts – the size of a credit card – to very large and magnificent productions, preserved entire.  Some of them contain only one or another of the books of the New Testament, others contain a small collection (for example, the four Gospels or the letters of Paul), a very few contain the entire New Testament.  There are, in addition, many manuscripts of the various early versions (= translations) of the New Testament.

These manuscripts range…

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