Article: The Oldest and Best Manuscripts? by Will Kinney

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Brooke Foss Westcott
Brooke Foss Westcott

The Oldest and Best Manuscripts? by Will Kinney

Most modern Versions have followed to a large extent the Greek Text prepared by Westcott and Hort in 1881. The Text of the Revised Version 1881 was influenced greatly by these scholars and the Nestlé Text is a collation of three (3) texts, Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf and Bernhard Weiss.


Westcott and Hort

Fenton J. A. Hort.
Fenton J. A. Hort.

Westcott and Hort recognised, as their supreme authorities, only two (2) manuscripts, Aleph and B, and these are among the five (5) ancient manuscripts appealed to by modern versions. In contrast to this Westcott-Hort text which first appeared in the Revised Version of 1881 and is now generally followed by such versions as the NASB, RSV, ESV, NIV, and Holman Standard, the older English Bibles like Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, and later on the King James Bible, Webster's, Young's, and the NKJV are based on what is called The Traditional Text or the Textus Receptus.

Dr. Edward F. Hills states that:

"in all essentials, the New Testament text first printed by Erasmus, and later by Stephens (1550) and Elzevir (1633) is in full agreement with the traditional text (Byzantine text) providentially preserved in the vast majority of the Greek New Testament Manuscripts .... It is from this Textus Receptus that the King James version was made" (Believing Bible Study, Page 37).

Westcott and Hort could not understand why the Alexandrian manuscripts were not copied in vast numbers, as were the Byzantine manuscripts. They propounded the theory that somebody must have produced the Byzantine Text about the 4th Century. Westcott and Hort called it the "Syrian Text." This theory has absolutely no historical foundation. It is a figment of their imagination to excuse them for rejecting the vast majority of manuscripts. Surely such a major recension of the text, if it had occurred, would have been documented in church history. This is especially so, as major doctrinal issues of that period are recorded in considerable detail, e.g. Council of Nicea 325 AD, which dealt with the Arian heresy. History is silent about any revision of the Text in Syria, Antioch or Constantinople!! While Westcott and Hort were introducing their so-called "neutral text" to the Revised Version Committee 1881, the true text was strongly defended by such scholars as Dean Burgon and Dr. Scrivener.


Sinaiticus Text
Sinaiticus Text

Those who have examined the ancient manuscripts, indicate that some of the oldest manuscripts are most carelessly written. Five of the oldest codices are Aleph, A, B, C, and D, and it is upon the evidence of these, and their small company of allies, that the Greek texts of Lachmann 1842-50; Tischendorf 1865-72; Tregelles 1857-72; Westcott and Hort 1881, rely. In fact Westcott and Hort, who dominated the Revised Version Committee of 1881, accepted what they called a neutral text. Only Codex Aleph and Codex B, in their opinion, preserve this text in its purest form. Of these two, when they differ, B is preferred to Aleph, in which

"the scribe's bold and rough manner has endured all the ordinary lapses due to rapid and careless transcription more numerous than in B. " Scrivener, Page 289, Volume II.

But how carefully written were these great UNCIALS on which our modern versions are based. Let us look at Aleph, B and D.

Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) (4th Century)

"From the number of errors, one cannot affirm that it is very carefully written. The whole manuscript is disfigured by corrections, a few by the original scribe, very many by an ancient and elegant hand of the 6th Century whose emendations are of great importance, some again by a hand a little later, for the greatest number by a scholar of the 7th Century who often cancels the changes by the 6th Century amender, others by as many as eight (8) different later writers. " Scrivener, Page 93, Vol. I.

Codex Vaticanus (B) (4th Century)

"One marked feature is the great number of omissions which induced Dr. Dobbin to speak of it as an abbreviated text of the New Testament. He calculates that whole words or clauses are left out no less than 2556 times." Scrivener, Page 120, Volume I.

This explains why the modern versions have omitted so much of the scripture -- a fact which is not always apparent due to the practice of grouping verses.

Codex Bezae Graeco-Latinus (D) (5th or 6th Century)

"The manuscript has been corrected, first by the original penman and later by 8 or 9 different revisors." And again: "No known manuscript contains so many bold and extensive interpolations (600 in ACTS alone) Scrivener, Pages 128 and 130, Volume I.

The Alexandrian School however, is recognised as one of the greatest sources of corruption, and it is Alexandrian influence which permeates some of the oldest manuscripts (particularly Vaticanus B, Sinaiticus Aleph) upon which the modern versions are based.


Codex Vaticanus B
Codex Vaticanus B

Scrivener states:

"it is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within 100 years after it was composed: and that Irenaeus and the African Fathers, and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syrian Church, used manuscripts far inferior to those employed by Stunica, Erasmus or Stephens, thirteen centuries later when moulding the Textus Receptus."

THE OLDEST MANUSCRIPTS ARE IN PERPETUAL DISAGREEMENT If we were to believe that the manuscripts became more corrupt each time they were copied, we would therefore expect the oldest to be the best and also to be in greatest agreement with each other.

THE FACT IS THEY ARE NOT -- as the following quote will show:

"Ought it not, asks Dean Burgon, sensibly to detract from our opinion of the value of their evidence, (Codex B and Codex Aleph) to discover that it is easier to find two consecutive verses in which the two manuscripts differ, the one from the other, than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree? .... On every such occasion only one of them can possibly be speaking the truth. Shall I be thought unreasonable if I confess that these perpetual inconsistencies, between Codd B and Aleph -- grave inconsistencies and occasionally even gross ones -- altogether destroy my confidence in either?"

Or as Scrivener writes:

"The point on which we insist is briefly this: that the evidence of ancient authorities is anything but unanimous, that they are perpetually at variance with each other, even if we limit the term ancient within the narrowest bounds. Shall it include, among the manuscripts of the Gospels, none but the five oldest copies of Codices Aleph, A, B, C, D? The reader has but to open the first recent critical work he shall meet with, to see them scarcely ever in unison, perpetually divided two against three, or perhaps four against one."

The following figures provided by Kirsopp Lake and his associates (1928), demonstrate that Codices Aleph, B and D are in greater disagreement among themselves than they are with the Received Text!

In Mark Chapter 2 alone-- Aleph, B and D differ from the Received Text 69, 71 and 95 times respectively. B differs from Aleph 34 times B differs from D 102 times D differs from Aleph 100 times.

Hoskier, who studied the differences between the texts of Aleph and B, lists the following differences in the 4 Gospels. These numbers show how often Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Vaticanus (B) DIFFER FROM EACH OTHER!

Matthew: 656 differences, Mark: 567 differences, Luke: 791 differences, John: 1,022 differences. Total for four (4) Gospels 3,036 differences.

In the light of the facts stated above it is clear that we cannot have confidence in any modern version or Greek text which rejects the concordant testimony of the vast majority of manuscripts in favour of a small company of ancient, but discordant witnesses.

Textus Receptus

The end of the book of Acts (folio 76r) from the Codex Alexandrinus, which has a mostly Byzantine text-type during the Gospels and is largely Alexandrian throughout the rest of the New Testament
The end of the book of Acts (folio 76r) from the Codex Alexandrinus, which has a mostly Byzantine text-type during the Gospels and is largely Alexandrian throughout the rest of the New Testament

TWO STREAMS OF MANUSCRIPTS HAVE ALWAYS EXISTED The foregoing comments serve to show that the claim of some modern translations and paraphrases, that the oldest manuscripts are the best, is altogether based on a wrong foundation. Dr. D. Otis Fuller, in his book "WHICH BIBLE," has shown that Christians of all ages have recognised that two streams of manuscripts have always existed. The muddy stream of the corrupt text, including the Western family (characterised by interpolations), and the Alexandrian family {characterised by omissions) has flowed through channels such as Origen (who denied the deity of Christ) Eusebius, Jerome (who produced the Latin Vulgate), and in the last century, through Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort.

The pure stream of the New Testament has flowed to us through the Received Text, which Dr. D. Otis Fuller tells us: "had authority enough to become either in itself, or by its translation, the Bible of the great Syrian Church, of the Waldensian Church of northern Italy, of the Gallic Church of Southern France, and of the Celtic Church in Scotland and Ireland, as well as the official Bible of the Greek Church (BYZANTINE TEXT)." The reformers stood firmly by the Received Text, Luther's German Translation and Tyndale's magnificent English Translation were from it. When 47 scholars translated the Authorised Version in 1611, by Divine Providence the Received Text was used. Manuscript discoveries since 1611 have NOT altered the picture. The number increased to 3791 in 1881, and since then to about 5,000, BUT STILL ABOUT 90% AGREE WITH THE RECEIVED TEXT!

These portions are taken from an article found at

Will Kinney

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