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Better Editions of the Greek New Testament

I have been dealing with a thread within a thread within a thread, and now I want to get back for a few of posts to the thread itself.  My initial question was about what it is translators are translating when they translate the New Testament into English.  I have talked about the fact that there are thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament that are now known; and I have indicated that the King James Version was based on only a few of these manuscripts, and these ones were not of high quality.  .

But what is it that modern translators — for example for the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version or the Jerusalem Bible or any one of the other gazillion translations now available — actually translate?  Do they choose one of the manuscripts?  A couple of them?  Which ones?  Why?  Or do they do something else?

They do something else.  They translate a printed text of the Greek New Testament that is widely available today, one you yourself can easily buy and access off of Amazon.

To explain what this printed text is, let me provide a bit of background.  I have already discussed the first published edition of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus in 1516.  This became the basis for the Textus Receptus (the “Received Text”) – the technical term for the standard text that was published year after year by various publishers, basically the same text that Erasmus had produced on the basis of very few manuscripts (in some passages, on the basis of no Greek manuscript at all!) which now is recognized as problematic (it contains, for example, the passage on the Trinity in 1 John, the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7-8, and the last twelve verses of Mark 16).

But even though printers would not print another form of the text (without these passages, for example), mainly because it was easy, convenient, and non-controversial to keep reproducing the Textus Receptus, there were some textual scholars who realized that there were problems with it and that there were other, better manuscripts available.   It’s a pretty interesting story.  Here’s …

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A Major Controversy in New Testament Textual Criticism
Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version



  1. Jaime  February 9, 2017

    Do all modern English bibles come from the Alexandrian text? I know the N.A. and U.B.S. use the Alexandrian text. Thank you for your time.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      Almost all do (though not, e.g., the New King James); but it’s not quite as simple as that, since the NA and UBS do not simply reproduce the Alexandrian text, but are eclectic editions that give strong *preference* in *most* instances to the Alexandrian text. Big difference!

  2. clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 9, 2017

    Any relation to philosopher John Stuart Mill? Probably not.

  3. doug  February 9, 2017

    It’s interesting that, due to the differences in Biblical manuscripts, people must have believed different things were “the word of God” (or were in some sense true), depending on which manuscript they read or heard. And before there was agreement on Biblical canon, people believed whole books that would never make it into the Bible were “the word of God’.

  4. Tempo1936  February 9, 2017

    In my KJV there are no footnotes or double brackets on the 3 NT verses you reference (1 John 5, mark 16, John/ woman in adultery).
    However , They are double bracketed in my ESV.

    No fundamentalist I know cares.
    Pastors never mention theses issues.

    Fundamentalist go to many “bible studies ” every week but are really study theology, dont you agree.

  5. jmmarine1  February 9, 2017

    Hello Prof. Ehrman, You mentioned that you were on a dissertation committee for a student writing a thesis on Eusebius and Josephus. Do these writers also need to have text critical work done on their manuscripts? Are there multiple manuscripts for these and other writers from antiquity? What are the relative ages of the available manuscripts for the apocryphal Acts, ante-Nicene, Nicene, and post-Nicene fathers? Are there manuscript families, orthodox corruptions, or are there merely textus receptus style versions? Have some of these writers been translated into other languages? Does textual criticism need to be done on non-biblical texts?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      Yes, every writing from the ancient world requires textual criticism — even if they are found only in a single manuscript. Both Eusebius and Josephus have more than one witness. And every ancient text has a different kind of textual history — different numbers of manuscripts from different periods of time. The manuscripts of the writings of some of the church fathers were indeed changed to make them more orthodox.

      • TWood
        TWood  February 11, 2017

        Which of your books most covers this? Misquoting Jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 12, 2017

          Yup. But for a scholarly discussion see Bruce Metzger, Text of the New Testament (I helped him produce the fourth edition)

  6. Hume  February 9, 2017

    How can one explain the Stigmata? And all the Stigmata that has claimed to have happen. Psycho-somatic?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      That and the fact that many accounts are almost certainly legendary.

  7. clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 10, 2017

    On another topic, I understand the power of multiple, independent witnesses, say in a court of law, in establishing what most likely really happened. I also accept that Mark, Q, M, L, John and Thomas were all probably composed independently of one another. However, for all these there was a long period of oral transmission before being written down. How do we know that the commonalities between these gospels did not all come, through oral transmission, from the same original witness–or perhaps from a small and close group of witnesses whose interaction contaminated their independence? That seems like a plausible hypothesis–perhaps even more likely than that the original witnesses were independent of one another. In any event, there seems to be a major difference between the witness independence described in the court of law of example and that found in the gospels.

    Perhaps I’m not looking at this correctly. And I wouldn’t deny that the independent composition of the gospels has importance, perhaps for establishing the earliest versions of what happened. But I’m having difficulty seeing it as likely that these accounts originated from independent witnesses.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 10, 2017

      It is because of the word for word agreements in Greek. If two people told you an account (about *anything*) they had heard (oral tradition) they would not give their accounts verbatim the same. ONly if one copies another text can you get that.

      • clipper9422@yahoo.com  February 11, 2017

        Well, maybe I still don’t get it. Imagine a game of “telephone” (I think it’s called) where 6 close friends-and original witnesses (like some of the apostles)-each tell the story of Jesus to a different “chain” of people. One wouldn’t expect the original story from each of the six to agree word for word, much less the version that was written down after oral transmission decades later. But the original six wouldn’t be truly independent of one another because they must have discussed it among themselves and have been influenced by one another. The six separate gospel accounts could help establish the version the original six had agreed on. But, in this example, the six different gospel accounts wouldn’t have originated from six separate “independent” accounts from the original witnesses. Doesn’t it seem likely that all the gospel accounts originated from a relatively small group of people who knew one another and influenced one another’s memories of what happened?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 12, 2017

          This is the topic of my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  8. RonaldTaska  February 10, 2017

    Cataclysmic indeed! How does one interpret the Bible literally if there is no “the” Bible?

  9. SidDhartha1953  February 12, 2017

    I mentioned that I am reading Dalley’s translation of Gilgamesh and other Mesopotamian myths. In it, there are gaps ranging from parts of a word to gaps of many dozens of lines. Most cannot be even conjecturally reconstructed. Why are there no such gaps in our translations of the Bible? Is it because, when all the known mss. are collated, no such gaps exist? Is there evidence that gaps in the different families of mss. were filled or ignored to conceal the fact that some parts of the originals have been lost forever — at least until more mss. are uncovered? I find it hard to believe we can have absolutely complete mss. of any document from 1900 to 2800 years old.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 13, 2017

      YEs, we have many many complete manuscripts of the NT books.

    • HistoricalChristianity  February 14, 2017

      Also, the Epic of Gilgamesh is around 2100 years older than the NT. There might be parts of NT texts which are lost forever. If so, they were likely lost (or edited away) before the earliest ms that we have.

  10. twiskus  March 5, 2017

    Just a quick question regarding 1 John 5:7-8. Does this verse appear in ANY Greek manuscripts prior to the one the church produced for Erasmus’ 2nd edition?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2017

      Yes, it was later discovered in a couple of earlier ones. But they still are not very early.

      • twiskus  March 6, 2017

        What year were these produced and does it show at all that the explicit doctrine does go back then earlier than Erasmus? Were they full manuscripts?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 7, 2017

          The earliest is a fourteenth century (full) manuscript. But the passage is much much earlier, because it appears in the Latin manuscript tradition (which is why the Catholic theologians accepted it as authentic).

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