More Info on the Discovery of the 1st Century MSS Fragment of Mark

Recently, Dr. Dan Wallace made news about the discovery of what is possibly the earliest NT MSS fragment ever found. I gave details on the find here. [And we reported on that here at this blog, too.]

Well, Dr. Wallace was recently interviewed by Hugh Hewitt on his radio show about the discovery and gave additional details. We now know the MSS contains part of one papyrus leaf, written on both sides. From the sound of it, it is most of one leaf so several verses but not much more. It was also found in Egypt — all seven of these MSS finds were found there. Dr. Wallace will also be on of the authors of the book that will publish all seven papyri fragments in early 2013.

Wallace continues to consider this a truly monumental manuscript find, as the following snippet from the full interview makes clear:

HH: Wow. Now in terms of, for the lay audience, Professor Daniel Wallace, the significance of this work when it appears, how would you grade it, with an A being a Dead Sea Scroll sort of significance, and you know, flunking, it just doesn’t matter?

DW: I would grade it at least an A, maybe an A+.

HH: And will the rest of the scholarly world agree with you on that assessment, do you think?

DW: I think that when they understand the ramifications of the entire nature of this manuscript that I’m not at liberty to mention, yes. They’re going to understand. At least those that will accept that date. Since the manuscript doesn’t have a date stamp on it, it says it was done this year, there are always going to be dissenters. But to do the work of paleography takes thousands and thousands of hours of research to do one.

I’m not sure the discovery will prove to be the equal of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will prove to be very consequential.

I also got an update from Matthew Hamilton who I quoted in my earlier post on this. From his information and that of Wallace from this interview, the following looks to be the list of the 7 manuscripts. Many of these would be the earliest textual witness we have of that Biblical book, if the dates hold true.

  1. 2nd century homily (sermon) on Hebrews 11
  2. 2nd century frg. with I Corinthians 8-10
  3. 2nd century frg. with Matthew
  4. 2nd century frg. with Romans 9-10
  5. 2nd century frg. from Hebrews, one side contains 9:19-22
  6. 2nd century frg. with Luke
  7. 1st century frg. [part of one leaf] with Mark

For more details read the entire transcript of the Hewitt – Wallace interview, and keep an eye on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

~cross posted from my personal blog,

Possible Discovery of a 1st Century Fragment of Mark

On February 1st, Dan Wallace debated Bart Ehrman, for the third time, on the reliability of the New Testament text. In this third debate held on Ehrman’s own UNC Chapel Hill, Wallace mentioned the possible discovery of a 1st century fragment of the gospel according to Mark. Subsequent rumors have revealed that this is a fragment, dated by a neutral party, older than P52. Wallace has made some comments at various blogs to assure us that he was neither the discoverer not the examiner of said document, but was merely reporting news. A book is expected to be published next year that will detail more information.

Some bypassing comments on the Internet suggested that, if validated, this discovery can be a mighty blow to the arguments of Ehrman as well as the arguments of King James Onlyism. While I think such an old fragment will carry much significance, I think both sides will be able to continue to their respective positions regardless.

Check out the website of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts for updates (as of this blog, no update has been given).

Also, check out Evangelical Textual Criticism periodically for possible updates.

St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness

John Chitty, known in the blogosphere as Captain Headknowledge, recently had the opportunity to attend a symposium on the St. Catherine’s monastery library and the significance of the Sinai manuscripts, held at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).

Chitty has shared the text of Father Justin’s lecture: “St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness”. I encourage you to take a look as the lecture covers the well known and the not so well known about St. Catherine’s Monastery. I’m not sure I had heard that they made some new manuscript discoveries there as late as 1975.

Here is an excerpt from the lecture notes, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing:

The monastery has never been destroyed or abandoned in all its centuries of existence. The climate at Sinai is surprisingly dry and stable, the humidity averaging from twenty to thirty percent. All of this, and the diligent care of the monks, account for the preservation of many manuscripts. The Sinai library is today a remarkable treasure for the antiquity and the significance of its volumes.

The library contains 3304 manuscripts, written in eleven languages. These are predominantly Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic. The manuscripts range in content from copies of the Scriptures, services, and music manuscripts, to sermons, writings of the Fathers, lives of the Saints, and books of inherited spiritual wisdom. The library also includes medical treatises, historical chronicles, and texts in classical Greek, which is the pinnacle of the Greek language.

A few of the manuscripts are splendid works of art, with gilded letters and brilliant illuminations, created in Constantinople in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, when the City was at its height as the centre of culture and devotion. But no less significant are the humble manuscripts written at Sinai, often on reused parchment, bound between rough boards, the pages stained from long use, a witness to the deprivations and austerity of Sinai, to the generations of monks who have maintained the life of devotion and the cycle of daily services at this holy place.

But perhaps we would come to a greater appreciation of the Sinai library if I could describe four manuscripts in particular, all of which have been recently studied by scholars.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a treasury filled with things new and old. Scholars still have much to learn from its library, its numerous icons, vestments, ecclesiastical vessels, its architecture. In all of this, it is a veritable ark in the wilderness.

See also a few related posts from John Chitty on the Sinai manuscripts:

Answering John MacArthur on the Ending of Mark

Recently, Dr. John MacArthur finished preaching through the New Testament (after nearly forty years). His last sermon covered the biggest controversy in the world of textual criticism: the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Dr. MacArthur sided with the majority of careful Christian scholarship and defended the position that Mark ends his Gospel at vs. 8. In the sermon (available to watch on Youtube), he gives a brief survey of textual criticism, the various manuscript types, and the evidence for and against the ending of Mark.

As I listened to MacArthur’s sermon, I winced at his handling of the textual evidence. He painted the picture in rosy kind of way, making the evidence in favor of his position seem insurmountable. In reality, the picture is quite different from the reality, and this question is one that should not be decided so cavalierly. It isn’t black and white and a simple matter of going with the ancient manuscripts on this point. The issue is much more complex than that. At the end of the day, I think MacArthur takes the correct position (I could still be persuaded otherwise, however), but at the very least he should be more transparent with the evidence. I understand wanting to instill faith in the Scripture and wanting to help people have confidence in textual criticism. Bending the truth (at least in the way you present the evidence) doesn’t help, however.

Pastor James Snapp, who is a proponent of equitable eclecticism and has studied long and hard on the issues surrounding textual criticism, has answered John MacArthur in a series of three 13-14 minute YouTube video clips. James is a frequent commenter around here, and doesn’t always agree with every position that I personally have taken. But he is fair minded and tries to go where the evidence takes him. He does a good job marshalling the evidence for the inclusion of Mark 116:9-20 and explains numerous errors that Dr. MacArthur made in his sermon.

Not every error is equally damaging, and not all the evidence that Snapp presents is convincing. I walked away from Snapp’s series with more questions about this matter which I intend to research further, but I am not completely convinced that the majority of Christian scholarship is just completely duped on this point. Snapp doesn’t explain how the various alternate endings of Mark arose, and that is a matter to explore. Why would anyone chop off the ending of Mark and keep the rest of his Gospel? What’s so special about the ending?

Regardless, I wanted to make you aware of Snapp’s rebuttal and post his video clips below. Snapp is very fair and charitable toward Dr. MacArthur, and presents a perfect example of how to engage in a disagreement honorably and respectably.

Has anyone else seen some kind of response or additional elaboration from MacArthur’s church on this question? Or do any of our readers have additional thoughts to share on this matter? Please join the discussion in the comments below.

Jack Moorman on Revelation 16:5

In the recent James White — Jack Moorman debate on King James Onlyism, White brought up Rev. 16:5 as containing a phrase in the King James Version with no manuscipt support at all. It was added on the basis of conjectural emendation, he claimed. Several times in the debate he went back to that point, and Moorman kept saying he dealt with it already in one of his books.

Well, here’s the only section in Jack Moorman’s books that I know of which deals with Rev. 16:5. This is from When the KJV Departs from the So-Called “Majority’ Text: with Manuscipt Digest by Jack A. Moorman (published by The Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ 1988). This is from pg. 102. I’ve tried to reproduce the format as shown in his book (my copy is the second edition).

Revelation 16:5
AV        which art, and wast, and shalt be
HF CR                                    … the Holy One


The KJV reading is in harmony with the four other places in Revelation where this phrase is found.
1:4 “him which is, and which was, and which is to come”
1:8 “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”
4:8 “Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”
11:17 “Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come”
Indeed Christ is the Holy One, but in the Scriptures of the Apostle John the title is found only once (1 John 2:20), and there, a totally different Greek word is used. The Preface to the Authorised Version reads:

“with the former translations diligently compared and revised”

The translators must have felt there was good reason to insert these words though it ran counter to much external evidence. They obviously did not believe the charge made today that Beza inserted it on the basis of “conjectural emendation”. They knew that they were translating the Word of God, and so do we. The logic of faith should lead us to see God’s guiding providence in a passage such as this.

[AV = Authorized Version/King James Bible, HF = Hodges/Farstad Majority Text, CR = Critical Text (specifically the NA26/UBS3)]

When I first encountered this reasoning for maintaining the King James reading, I was troubled. He lists no witnesses except for Beza’s text. At the time, I was still of the KJV only persuasion, the TR Only variety. I wondered why Moorman disagreed with E.F. Hills a learned King James Version defender who admitted that Rev. 16:5 was a conjectural emendation. Later I learned that Beza actually tells us in his textual notes that this is a conjectural emendation inserted based on his presumption that John would be consistent with other similar phrases (which Moorman quotes above).

Well, since that time, I’ve come to see this as one of the clearest errors in the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus. Neither accepted version of the Textus Receptus contains this error. The 1550 Stephanus edition, prized in England as “the standard”, and the Elzevir’s text of 1633 preferred on the continent (of Europe), both do not contain this reading. Update: Actually the 1550 Stephanus, the standard in Europe, does not have Beza’s reading. The 1633 Elzevir’s text does, but the earlier 1624 Elzevir’s and all later Elzevir’s editions (1641-1678) go back to the Stephanus reading. I am unclear as to how much more preference was given to the 1633 text over the 1624, edition. H.C. Hoskier says the 1624 text is better, see Appendix C of his A Full Account and Collation of the Greek Cursive Codex Evangelium here). None of the previous English versions that the KJV translators referred to had this reading. The Latin didn’t have it either. In another post I have detailed the only possible, barest shred of evidence, a citation in one Latin commentary which may contain this reading. Beza is ignorant of that commentary however.

My point in bringing this up here is to show that I’m not so certain that Moorman has really dealt with this text. This is circular reasoning at its worst. This mentality belies the motivation behind many KJV Onlyists, which I believe White correctly pinpointed in the debate. It is the desire for a standard text. That’s a commendable desire, but it doesn’t excuse sloppy handling of evidence. By the way, this doesn’t mean that the TR isn’t a great text (most TRs don’t have this error). It also doesn’t impugn the Majority Text, as it obviously doesn’t have this reading.

Now I’m ready to stand corrected if in later copies of this book, Moorman actually added more evidence or took out his circular arguments. But at least in this version of the book, his arguments were quite poor indeed.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (conclusion)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


Part five of a five part series. See the entire series here.

Additional Principles

Equitable Eclecticism, besides rejecting the theory that the Byzantine Text was formed entirely via a consultation of MSS containing Alexandrian and Western readings, utilizes some additional principles which set it apart from the kinds of textual criticism which produced the revised text and its modern-day representatives:

1.  Textual criticism is a science, not an art.

2.  The text of the New Testament should be reconstructed in its component-parts:  Gospels and Acts and Pauline Epistles and General Epistles and Revelation.  Relationships shown by patterns of readings in one part should not be assumed to exist in the others.

3.  The genealogical descent of a group of MSS from an ancestor-MS other than the autograph is not assumed without actual evidence that establishes links among specific MSS (such as shared formats, shared marginalia, shared miniatures, or readings which conclusively show stemmatic links).

4.  Variants involving nomina sacra are placed in a special class, and receive special attention.

5.  The assumption of preference for the shorter reading is rejected.

6.  If a variant has very sporadic support from witnesses greatly separated by age and textual character, this possibly indicates that the variant was liable to be spontaneously created by copyists, rather than that it was transmitted by distant transmission-streams.

7.  Exceptional intrinsic merit is required for the adoption of variants attested exclusively or nearly exclusively by bilingual MSS in which a Greek variant may have originated via retro-translation.

8.  Conjectural emendations are not to be placed in the text.

Equitable Eclecticism also utilizes principles shared by other approaches.  These principles are all superseded by Principle Zero:  no principle should be applied mechanically.

1.  A variant which explains its rivals with greater elegance and force than it is explained by any of them is more likely to be original.

2.  A variant supported by witnesses representing two or more locales of early Christendom is more likely to be original than a variant supported by witnesses representing only one locale.

3.  A variant which can be shown to have had, in the course of the transmission of the text, the appearance of difficulty (either real or imagined), and which is rivaled by variants without such difficulty, is more likely than its rivals to be original.

4.  A variant supported by early attestation is more likely to be original than a rival variant supported exclusively by late attestation.

5.  A variant which conforms a statement to the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or in the same document, is less likely to be original than a rival variant that does not exhibit conformity.

6.  A variant which involves a rare, obscure, or ambiguous term or expression is more likely to be original than a rival variant which involves an ordinary term or expression.

7.  A variant which is consistent with the author’s discernible style and vocabulary is more likely to be original than a rival variant which deviates from the author’s usual style and vocabulary and the vocabulary which he may naturally be expected to have been capable of using.

8.  A variant which is fully explained as a liturgical adjustment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be thus explained.

9.  A variant which is capable of expressing anti-Judaic sentiment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of such expression.

10.  A variant which can be explained as an easy transcriptional error is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be explained as an easy transcriptional error or as one which would be less easily made.

11.  A variant which appears to have originated as a deliberate alteration is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of originating in the same way.

12.  Ceteris paribus, a variant which does not result in a Minor Agreement is more likely to be original than a rival variant which results in a Minor Agreement.

Closing Thoughts

Christian readers may feel intimidated or exasperated at the realization that the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed by a careful analysis of the witnesses – a massive and intricate task which currently involves no less than 130 papyri, about 320 uncials, about 2,870 minuscules, and about 2,430 lectionaries,18 plus versional and patristic materials.  The feeling may be increased when one also realizes that even the most erudite textual critics have reached divergent conclusions, and that all conclusions must be subject to the implications of future discoveries.

This may lead some readers to decline to investigate the text, deciding instead to hopefully adhere to whatever text (or texts) they already use.  Such an expedient response is understandable, especially in light of the often-repeated (but false) claim that textual variants have no significant doctrinal impact.  Nevertheless, for those few who are not content to place blind confidence in textual critics, or to posit providential favor upon a particular set of variants on account of its popularity or for other reasons, the best option is to become textual critics themselves, becoming acquainted with the contents of the manuscripts and other witnesses like a traveler who must know his maps.  Such acquaintance will yield a different kind of confidence than untested assumptions can produce.

Yet the comparison to a map is insufficient to describe the Christian researcher’s text of the New Testament.  After we have done our best to conduct research with scientific detachment, the text will be to us not only a map from which additions have been erased and damage has been repaired, but also a pure light, illuminating the path and enlightening the traveler.  With that thought I leave the reader to consider the words of J. A. Bengel, one of the pioneers of New Testament textual criticism:

Te totum applica ad textum:
rem totam applica ad te.

Apply all of yourself to the text,
Apply it all to yourself.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
October 15, 2010

18 – Exact numbers would misimpress, because some items in the lists are no longer extant, and some have been found to be parts of other items also listed.

James Snapp, Jr. preaches and ministers at Curtisville Christian Church in central Indiana. The church’s website includes an introduction to textual criticism and links to other resources, including a detailed defense of Mark 16:9-20. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University (B.A., 1990), where his professors included Lewis Foster, Tom Friskney, and Reuben Bullard, James has studied New Testament textual criticism for over 20 years.

Equitable Eclecticism by James Snapp Jr. (part 4)



The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism


Part four of a five part series. See the entire series here.

Competing Analytical Approaches

The Byzantine Priority view may be considered a form of documentary criticism, in which readings from a particular set of witnesses – in this case, Greek MSS displaying the Byzantine Text – are preferred on the grounds that their external support is superior and because their authenticity implies a plausible model of transmission-history.  Essentially the same sort of approach was used by Hort, although Hort regarded the Alexandrian Text as superior (and thus, the early Alexandrian MSS were his favored documents), and proposed a very different model of transmission-history to account for its rivals.

Two other approaches were developed by textual critics in the 1900’s by scholars aspiring to produce an eclectic text, that is, a text obtained via the utilization of a variety of sources.  Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (also known as Rigorous Eclecticism) values the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants as the best means to determine their relationships, effectively rejecting Hort’s axiom.  Even if a reading appears exclusively in late witnesses, if its intrinsic qualities are judged to be better than its rivals, it is adopted, on the premise that its young supporters echo an older text – the autograph – at that point.  Building on the theory that text-types did not stabilize until the 200’s or later, thoroughgoing eclectics resort to the only sort of reconstruction which can be undertaken without appealing to the relationships of text-types:  the relationships of rival variants.  Advocates of this approach tend to be more willing to introduce conjectural emendations, if the emendations possess superior intrinsic qualities to its rival extant variants.

Reasoned Eclecticism (also known as Rational Eclecticism) considers the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants, but also considers the quality of each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope.  The text of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament was compiled using a form of reasoned eclecticism.  However, in its companion-volume, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger’s comments show that the quality of sources tended to be measured according to Hort’s model of transmission-history.  In The Text of the New Testament, Metzger wrote, “Theoretically it is possible that the Koine text” – that is, the Byzantine Text – “may preserve an early reading which was lost from the other types of text, but such instances are extremely rare.”17 As a result, the UBS text varies only slightly from Hort’s text.

An alternative is Equitable Eclecticism, in which the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants are considered, and each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope are also considered.  Equitable Eclecticism begins by developing a generalized model of transmission-history, and estimates of the relative values of the readings of groups, through a five-step process:

? First, the witnesses are organized into groups which share distinctive variants.

? Second, variant-units involving variants distinct to each group are analyzed according to text-critical principles, or canons.

? Third, a tentative model of transmission-history is developed, cumulatively explaining the relationships of the competing groups to one another by explaining the relationships of their component-parts where distinctive variants are involved.  This model of transmission-history utilizes the premise the earliest stratum of the Byzantine Text of the Gospels (echoed by Family ?, the Peshitta, Codex A, part of Codex W, the Gothic version, and the Purple Codices N-O-?-?) arose without the involvement of witnesses that contained the Alexandrian, Western, or Caesarean texts.  Even readings supported by a higher stratum of the Byzantine Text and not by the lowest one are not rejected automatically, inasmuch as some of them may echo extinct text-forms which the Proto-Byzantine Text absorbed as it spread.

? Fourth, values are assigned to groups rather than to individual witnesses.  Less dependence by one group upon another group, as implied cumulatively by the relationship of its variants the rival variants in other groups, yields a higher assigned value.

? Fifth, all reasonably significant variant-units (those which make a translatable difference) are analyzed according to text-critical canons, using all potentially helpful materials, including readings that are not characteristic of groups.  When internal considerations are finely balanced and a decision is difficult, special consideration is given to readings attested by whatever group appears to be the least dependent upon the others in the proximity of the difficult variant-unit.  If no group appears especially independent of the others in the proximity of the variant-unit, the decision depends upon the trained intuition of the critic.

This will yield the archetype of all groups, albeit with some points of instability (at especially difficult variant-units) and with a degree of instability in regard to orthography.

17 – p. 212, footnote 1, The Text of the New Testament. On the same page, Metzger treated the Lucianic Recension as a historical fact.

James Snapp, Jr. preaches and ministers at Curtisville Christian Church in central Indiana. The church’s website includes an introduction to textual criticism and links to other resources, including a detailed defense of Mark 16:9-20. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University (B.A., 1990), where his professors included Lewis Foster, Tom Friskney, and Reuben Bullard, James has studied New Testament textual criticism for over 20 years.