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The Oldest Printed Versions of the Greek New Testament

I have started to explain what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  They do not translate just one manuscript or another; they translate what they take to be the “original” text as it has been reconstructed by textual specialists (some of whom are the translators themselves).  These reconstructions can be found in printed editions of the Greek New Testament.

To make sense of what the translators actually have in front of them when they are translating, I need to give a brief history of the printing of the Greek New Testament.  To that end I will provide in two or three posts the directly relevant material given in my book Misquoting Jesus.  I’ve always thought this is unusually interesting information connected to “how we got our Bible.”  I start at the beginning, with the invention of printing.




The text of the New Testament was copied in a fairly standardized form throughout the centuries of the Middle Ages, both in the East (the “Byzantine” text) and the West (the Latin Vulgate).   It was the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century by Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468) that changed everything for the reproduction of books in general and the books of the Bible in particular.  By printing books with moveable print, one could guarantee that every page looked exactly like every other page, with no variations of any kind in the wording.  Gone were the days when transcribers would each produce different copies of the same text by means of accidental and intentional alterations.  What was set in print, was set in stone.   Moreover, books could be made far more rapidly: no longer did they need to be copied one letter at a time.  And, as a result, they were made much more cheaply.  Scarcely anything has made such a revolutionary impact on the modern world as the printing press; the next closest thing (which may, eventually, surpass it in significance) is the advent of the personal computer.

The first major work to be published on Gutenberg’s printing press was …

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The First Greek New Testament
My Problem(s) With Fundamentalism: A Blast from the Past



  1. talmoore
    talmoore  January 16, 2017

    I saw a Gutenberg Bible at the Huntington Library. On the spine it said “Zondervan”.

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    nwoll  January 16, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I recently saw someone claim that the KJV version of the English bible was translated from a different manuscript than most other modern versions. Is this true?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2017

      See today’s post. The KJV was based on the edition produced by Erasmus, which has now been superseded.

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    jhague  January 16, 2017

    It was the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century by Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468) that changed everything for the reproduction of books in general and the books of the Bible in particular.

    This is off topic but is it true that some church leaders did not want members of their churches to have copies of the Bible in order to prevent the members from reading for themselves and finding out that the leaders are misinforming the members?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2017

      The Catholic church was famous for urging its members not to try to read the Bible on their own.

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        dankoh  January 19, 2017

        At one point in England it was a capital crime to possess a copy of the Bible without a writ from the bishop. That’s one reason why Tyndale was hunted down and burned at the stake: he tried to translate the Bible into English (a precursor of the KJV).

  4. rememberwhite
    rememberwhite  January 16, 2017

    Bart .. enjoyed your punchline at the end 😀

    Best wishes fom a rainy Belfast, Ireland

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    godspell  January 16, 2017

    (And that acclaimed biblical scholars love the lowly pun as much as anyone else.)

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    tskorick  January 16, 2017

    Hoping this isn’t entirely off topic, but what is your opinion of modern-day books such as Comfort and Barrett’s “Text ..” and others? Are there any that you would think of as more authoritative?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2017

      I’m afraid they are not recognized experts in the field of manuscript studies — at least not recognized by scholars who *are* recognized! Their work cannot be trusted as authoritative.

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    Tempo1936  January 17, 2017

    Fundamentalist should live by the best interpretation of the gospel…

    Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

    —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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    SidDhartha1953  January 17, 2017

    I read yesterday that the NIV is now more widely used by conservative/fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. than the KJV. Of all the translations out there, what do you think sets it apart for them?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2017

      It’s done by a respected group of very conservative biblical scholars and it reads well (and smooths over a number of difficulties in the text).

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    RonaldTaska  January 19, 2017

    Great ending!

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    dankoh  January 19, 2017

    Between the printing press and the computer (inter Martem et Iovem, as it were) there is the telegraph. This to me is the one of the three or four most significant inventions in history – distance was no longer a factor in the distribution of information.

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