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New Testament Manuscripts (1)

I know that this material will be of no interest to many of my readers, however, it is considered imperative by this writer that the basics of manuscript evidence and textual criticism be understood. This area of study, and the proper understanding of it, is critical for the revitalization of Independent Baptist Churches.


"a manuscript (MS), or manuscripts (MSS) are handwritten copies of texts. Prior to the fifteenth century when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type for the printing press, all copies of any work of literature were made by hand (hence, the name “manuscript”). In the centuries prior to the simultaneous multiple production of copies via dictation (wherein many scribes in a scriptorium transcribed a text dictated to them by one reader), all manuscript copies were made singly—each scribe producing a copy from an exemplar"

Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 387.


An exemplar is a model, pattern, archetype, or example; the original text or copy regarded as accurate/authoritative.


There are around 5800+ hand-written manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 388.

This figure does not even include the available 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian.


Paleography is the study of ancient writing. Paleographers aid textual critics by identifying biblical texts among thousands of manuscripts - sometimes nothing more than scraps - dating manuscripts, and producing transcriptions of manuscripts. Textual critics can then use these transcriptions to analyze the textual characteristics of a particular manuscript.


Most of these 5800 are from the Middle Ages (500 to 1400–1500 A.D.). Those manuscripts are broken down into the following categories with a current estimate of the number of manuscripts.

  • Minuscule  2850 (cursive – Miniscules are manuscripts written in rather small letters – commonly in a cursive or free-flowing hand; Cursive was developed in the 9th century. After the 10th century almost all MSS are minuscules).

  • Lectionary  2385 (a portion of Scripture written out for use in ancient church services for worship - daily or weekly. Earliest - 6th century A.D.; others to 10th century.)

  • Majuscule  286 (Large uncial - a manuscript written in formally printed large letters similar to capital letters).

  • Papyrus  136 - (Papyrus, papyri. Tall, aquatic reed, the pith of which is cut into strips, laid in a cross-work pattern, and glued together to make a page for writing. The papyrus rolls of Egypt have been used as a writing surface since the early third millennium BC. The Greeks adopted papyrus around 900 BC and later the Romans adopted its use. However, the oldest extant Greek rolls of papyrus date from the fourth century BC. The inner pith of the papyrus plant was called byblos. From this comes the Greek word biblion (book) and the English word Bible. The word paper is derived from papyrus. Papyrus is perishable, requiring a dry climate for its preservation. That is why so many papyri have been discovered in the desert sands of Egypt. Some papyrus fragments have also been found in the caves near the Dead Sea, where the climate is likewise sufficiently dry.

Philip Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005), 389.

Those 5800 manuscripts can be further identified by what are called textual categories. This categorization ranks manuscripts from the most found to the least.

  • Unassigned  4029

  • Category V: Byzantine  1300 (This category has been variously known as the Traditional Text, Antiochan Text, Constantinopolitan Text, Majority Text, Reformation Text, Syrian Text, or the Universal Text).

  • Category III: Eclectic  245

  • Category II: Egyptian  102

  • Category I: Alexandrian  61.

  • Category IV: Western  5

There are a little over 4 dozen Manuscripts (most incomplete and fragmentary) that date to A.D. 300 or earlier. They are listed here.

The eccentric "p" (𝔓) - represents the word papyrus or papyri

There are just over 60 Third Century (200-299 AD) Manuscripts. These are listed here.

A small handful of manuscripts reach back to the second century (100-199 A.D.)

They are listed here.

We will consider more information in due time.

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