Earliest New Testament Manuscripts RESOURCES

10 Sep

According to Dan Wallace, the total number of catalogued Greek New Testament manuscripts is:
-128 papyri
-322 majuscules (uncials)
-2,926 minuscules
-2,462 lectionaries
grand total: 5,838 manuscripts
Textual criticism came up in my recent debate with atheist William Costigan. The question on the floor was about the historical Jesus and from there William went into NT textual criticism. One point of contention between us was the early NT MSS – how many are there, what do they contain, and what are their names? Here are several online links which provide lists of all the NT Papyri. You can see which ones date before the 4th century for yourself.

1. List of Greek NT Papyri by Wieland Willker
2. List of NT MSS by Robert Waltz
3. NT Manuscripts – Papyri by Peter M. Head
4. A list by Timothy W. Seid
5. And, believe it or not, the list on Wikipedia is pretty decent

          This paper by the amazing Larry Hurtado contains the list in PDf form (also includes OT MSS): “Christian Literary Texts in Manuscripts of Second & Third Centuries”. For more on early Christian manuscripts, see another one of his insightful articles“The Early New Testament Papyri: A Survey of Their Significance” by L. W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh).

I also highly recommended Hurtado’s The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2006). It has a list of the earliest MSS in the back. We once interviewed Dr. Hurtado on this very subject on Backpack Radio.

          A helpful book on this is by Philip Comfort: The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. It includes photographs of the MSS, many of which you can see at EarlyBible.com or at Dan Wallace’s Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. We interviewed Dr. Wallace on Backpack Radio about the absolute earliest NT manuscript extant and you can listen to that broadcast here. Lastly, for a basic introduction to textual criticism, I recommend another program we did on TC with Dr. Steve Hallam called ‘Of Manuscripts & Surfboards‘.

Dr. Daniel Wallace gives the general picture of the current state of NT Manuscripts:

“Today we know of more than 5600 Greek NT manuscripts. Among these, we know of about 2000–3000 Gospels manuscripts, 800 Pauline manuscripts, 700 manuscripts of Acts and the general letters, and about 325 manuscripts of Revelation. These numbers do not include the lectionaries, over 2000 of them, that are mostly of the Gospels. At the same time, not all the manuscripts are complete copies. The earlier manuscripts are fragmentary, sometimes covering only a few verses. The later manuscripts, however, generally include at least all four Gospels or Acts and the general letters or Paul’s letters or Revelation.”

Additionally, there are over 19,000 manuscripts of the New Testament in other languages. Homer’s Iliad has 643 manuscripts and there is a time gap of 500 years between the original and the earliest copy. Plato’s works have 7 supporting them and a time gap of 1,200 years. Aristotle’s works have 49 supporting copies and a time gap of 1,400 years. Caesar’s Gallic Wars has 10 manuscript copies and a time gap of 1,000 years.

Dr. Simon Greenleaf, from The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence: “Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.” (Kregel Classics, 1995, p 16).


On a related textual critical note, one atheist said this about something I said in the debate regarding TC:

“And there are always the variations on, ‘Christian literature is the most extensively copied and documented…’” Vocab, do you find this surprising given the popularity of and former temporal power of Christianity? The point of documentation is a non-starter … even though it’s almost certainly meant to exploit a ‘consensus bias’ in audiences – as certainly it couldn’t have made a difference to [your opponent]. If ANYTHING needs to be pointed out about the IDEA of documentation, it’s this. … The ultimate answer to such things must ultimately be, ‘So, what?'”

           Here is my response: Lots of copies means textual multivocality. This is part of what TC scholars desire, whatever the work they collate. More copies ensure more accuracy, due to cross-checking and the like. It’s just that simple. More copies of any ancient work is better. It doesn’t make it true, obviously, but it does help ensure we have the correct form of the text. This is part of how textual critical sciences operate, whatever the ancient document may be. That is the whole point about the amount of copies of the NT.

          When talking about the earliest copies, the comment about lots of copies due to Christianity’s temporal power is mistaken. The first 300-400 years of Christianity was not a time of power and control for the church. For example, on the page marked 351 at the top of this journal article, it is mentioned how 37 early manuscripts were confiscated from about 7 different early Christian readers: “Papyri from the Great Persecution: Roman and Christian Perspectives” by Annemarie Luijendijk.

UPDATED 09/25/2013

Vocab Malone is an urban apologist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing  further education at Talbot.


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