History of the New Testament Text

The Westcott and Hort theory has  no history of the  transmission of the NT text.

The history of the NT text strongly supports the overwhelming majority of Received Text manuscripts as being the true NT text.

Usually the older a text, the greater its chances of surviving in a majority of manuscripts. The oldest text is the original autograph. Therefore, we’d expect a majority of manuscripts to more likely represent the original, because the original has had more time to establish itself and to spread. Copies of the original had a big head start numerically. This accounts for and supports the Received Text as representing the original because of its over 98% numerical superiority. Usually, it would be impossible for a later text form to secure so one-sided a preponderance of manuscript witnesses.

Question 1: Were the NT Writings immediately recognized as the Word of God?

a)  Modern version supporters like to assume that the New Testament books were initially not regarded as the Word of God. Roman Catholicism takes this view because they want us to believe that the Roman Catholic church gave us the Bible in order to place the Bible and its interpretation under Roman Catholicism’s & the Popes’ authority.

b)  They follow on to assume that by carelessness in copying, the text was confused and the original wording was lost.

Colwell says, `Most of the manuals and handbooks now in print (including mine!) will tell you that these variations were the fruit of careless treatment which was possible because the books of the New Testament had not yet attained a strong position asBible“.’ What is the Best NT? p.53.

Hort said that: `Textual purity, as far as can be judged from the extant literature, attracted hardly any interest. There is no evidence to show that care was generally taken to choose out for transcription the exemplars having the highest claims to be regarded as authentic, if indeed the requisite knowledge and skill were forthcoming.’ Westcott and Hort, p.9. Answer: Let’s not take Hort’s word for it, but let’s check the historical facts as follows:

1.  Paul considered his writings to be the Word of God:

`If any man think himself … spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.’ I Corinthians 14:37. Paul ordered that his writings be read elsewhere:

`When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans.’ Colossians 4:16.

Paul in I Timothy 5:18 puts Luke 10:7 `The labourer is worthy of his reward’ on the same authority level as Deuteronomy 25:4 `Thou shalt not muzzle the ox’ calling them both Scripture, meaning the Word of God. `For the  scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.’

2.  Peter classes the apostles’ commandments with those of the holy prophets: `be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles2 Peter 3:2.

3.  Peter puts Paul’s writings on the same level as other Scriptures:

`As also in all his (Paul’s) epistles . . . which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the  other Scriptures‘ 2 Peter 3:15,16. (66 AD).

Peter declares Paul’s writings to be Scripture by apostolic authority as soon as they appeared.

4.  Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) wrote to the Corinthians in 96 AD, quoting the New and Old Testament Scriptures as being equally authoritative.

He quotes Psalm 118:18 and Hebrews 12:6 as the Holy Word (First Epistle of Clement 56:3,4.ie: Vol.1, p.20) “For thus saith the holy Word: ‘The Lord hath severely chastened me, yet hath he not given me over to death’ (Psalm 118:18). `For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.’ (Hebrews 12:6).”

He says that Paul wrote I Corinthians with `true inspiration to you’ (47:1-3). He testifies to being at Philippi with Paul in 57 AD.

He quotes from 16 out of 27 NT books as Scripture (Vol 1, p.1-21) in 96 AD.

These are: Matthew 6:12-15; 7:2; 15:8; 24:35; Mark 7:6; 9:42; Luke 6:36-38; 8:5; 17:2; Acts 20:35; Romans 1:32; 4:3; 9:5; I Cor. 1:31; 2:9; 3:13; 10:26,28; 12:12; 13:4; 15:20; 16:1,2; II Cor 10:17; Ephesians 4:4-6; 6:21; Col.1:18; I Thessalonians 5:21; Titus 1:2; 2:14; 3:1; Hebrews 1:3,4,7,13; 3:5; 6:18; 11:13,17,37; 12:6; James 2:23; 4:6; 5:20; I Peter 2:17; 3:20; 4:8; 5:5; and II Peter 2:5.

5. The Epistle of Barnabus around 100 AD refers to Matthew 22:14 as ‘as it is written‘.

6.  Polycarp (65-155 AD) writing to the Philippian church in 115 AD, refers to 18 out of the 27 New Testament books as Scripture on 70 occasions. This shows that the NT canon was well established by 115 AD. He testified to be a disciple of the apostle John. (Vol.1, p.31-44). In 115 AD he quotes Matthew 5:3,10,44; 6:12,13,14; 7:1,2; 20:28; 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 6:20,36,37,38; Acts 2:24; 5:41; 17:31; Romans 8:11; 12:17; 14:10-12; I Corinthians 6:2,9,10,14; II Corinthians 4:14; 5:10; 8:31; Galatians 1:1; 2:2; 4:26; 6:7; Ephesians 2:8,9; 4:26; 6:11,14; Philippians 1:5,27; 2:10,16; I Thessalonians 5:17,22; II Thessalonians 3:15; I Tim.2:2; 3:8; 6:7,10; II Tim.2:12; I Peter 1:8,13,21; 2:11,12,17,21,22,24; 3:9,22; 4:7,16; 5:5; II Peter 3:15; I John 4:3,9; Jude 3.

7.  Other works quoting the New Testament as Scripture are the Didache; Letter to Diognetus; Shepherd of Hermas; Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (150 AD); etc.

8.  Papias (70-155 AD) quotes John 14:2 “In my Father’s house are many mansions”, and I Corinthians 15:25,26,27,28. (Vol. l, p.151-155). He heard John preach & was a friend of Polycarp.

9.  Justin Martyr (110-165 AD) stated that churches read the Apostles’ writings: “And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites us to the imitation of these noble things.” (Vol 1, page 186). He often quotes from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospels, as well as Acts 1:9 and II Peter 3:8. (Vol.1, p.159-305).

10.  Irenaeus (120-202 AD) stated in 185 AD that the apostles taught that God is the author of both the Old and New Testaments (Against Heresies IV, 32.2: Vol.1, p.506). “For all the apostles taught that there were indeed two testaments among the two peoples; but that it was one and the same God who appointed both for the advantage of those men who were to believe in God.” He quotes from every New Testament book (except Philemon and 3 John) as the Word of God. This shows that the NT canon was well established by 185 AD (Vol.1, page 309-578).

11.  Tertullian in 208 AD says of the Church at Rome: “the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles“. (Prescription against Heretics, 36).

Question 2: Were Early Christians Careful?

Hort presumes that early Christians were unconcerned or unable to protect the purity of the New Testament text. Is this true or false?

Answer: The first Christians were devout Jews with a great reverence and care for the Old Testament Scriptures, even to preserving jots and tittles. They would certainly continue this care to New Testament Scriptures. Were the early Christians inferior in honesty or intelligence to us today? Not at all, as seen by men like Paul, John, Apollos, Luke, etc. The early church leaders, who knew what the pure text was, did not need to be textual critics, they just needed to be honest, careful and watchful.

The apostles warned believers to be on guard against false teachers. In I Peter 3:16, Peter warned that unlearned and unstable people twisted Paul’s and other New Testament writings. This, along with the warning in Revelation 22:18,19 would have motivated Christians to be on guard not to tamper with nor copy the New Testament carelessly.

Ignatius (30-107 AD) writes about considerable communication between churches, showing great solidarity binding them together, warning each other about heretics. Polycarp warned against corrupt New Testament copies in Vol.l, p.34, Chap.VII: `Whoever perverts the sayings of the Lord . . . is the first born of satan’.

Heresy had the effect of putting the faithful on guard and forcing them to define clearly what they were going to defend. Marcion’s altering the New Testament text caused true believers to define the true NT canon and to guard its wording.

Dionysius, bishop of Corinth (168-176 AD), complained that the Holy Scriptures had been tampered with.

Tertullian held some original NT manuscripts in 145-220 AD: “I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves. I am the heir of the apostles. Just as they carefully prepared their will and testament, and committed it to a trust . . . even so I hold it.”

Irenaeus defended “666” in Revelation 13:18 against 616, that “666” is found in all the most approved, ancient copies”.

Polycarp personally knew John, and his copy of Revelation would have been copied from the original autograph. Irenaeus knew and highly respected Polycarp.

Apostle JOHN POLYCARP →65-156 AD IRENAEUS →120-202 AD TERTULLIA145-220 AD

Tertullian in 208 AD urged heretics to: “run over (visit) the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings (authenticae) are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. Achaia is very near you, (in which) you find Corinth. Since you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi; (and there too) you have the Thessalonians.

Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus. Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of the apostles themselves).” This means that the originals were still being read in 208 AD. This was at the same time that the very corrupt papyri p46 , p66 and p75 were produced.

Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (177 AD) claimed that churches had spread through the whole earth by their day. If each church had one New Testament manuscript to read from, then hundreds of churches meant hundreds of New Testament manuscripts. Also hundreds of private copies were owned by those who were able to afford them.

Question 3: Was the transmission normal? Sometimes YES, but sometimes NO.


It is likely that faithful Christians were persons of:

Integrity and intelligence. They would make accurate copies of manuscripts they received from trustworthy people of the previous generation. There may be occasional accidental copying mistakes, but no deliberate changes.

Reverence. Knowing that they were copying the Word of God for future generations.

Vigilance. Knowing that the Apostles had warned them against false teachers.

Question 4: Were all believers in equally good locations for transmitting the true text?

Answer: Obviously not. Those who possessed the Autographs were in the best position.

i)    Who possessed the original New Testament autographs?

Asia Minor had 12: John; Galatians; Ephesians; Colossians; I and II Timothy; Philemon; I Peter; I John, II John, III John and Revelation.

Greece had 6: I and II Corinthians; Philippians; I, II Thessalonians; Titus in Crete. Rome had 2: Mark and Romans.

Asia Minor or Rome held: Luke; Acts, II Peter and Jude. Asia Minor or Palestine held: Matthew and James. Rome or Palestine held: Hebrews.

Conclusion: The Aegean area had the best start, and Alexandria had the worst.

In the earliest period, the most reliable New Testament copies would be circulating in the region that held the Autographs, that is Asia Minor and Greece, not in Alexandria.

ii)   Good New Testament copies were spread quickly to every church.

The making of copies would have begun at once. Each church would want a copy.

Clement quotes 16 out of 27 New Testament books by 96 AD, proving that copies were in circulation. Peter recognised Paul’s writings as Scripture before 70 AD. Those who held the Autographs produced a growing stream of faithful New Testament copies for the rest of the Christian world.

In those early years, those who copied the New Testament would not change the text, knowing that the true wording could always be checked with the original. Ephesus by 200 AD would have still had the original or a good copy of John’s Gospel.

iii)  Rapid spread of good New Testament copies produced a Majority Text form. With the increasing spread of good NT copies and with the ability to check them with the autographs, a Majority Text form would become early and solidly entrenched. Thus a basic trend was established at the very beginning, which continued till the invention of printing. The rapid spread of good NT copies would prohibit corrupt text forms gaining widespread acceptance. In a few years a multiplying Majority Test was established.


Some people, lacking integrity and with malicious intent, deliberately altered the New Testament text. The New Testament and early church leaders warned against heretics who produced many altered New Testament manuscripts, giving many variant readings to confuse and mislead the unwary.

i)      Most damage of variant readings was done by 200 AD

“The worst corruptions to which the New Testament has been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed.”

(Plain Introduction to Criticism of the New Testament, Scrivener, 4th Edition Vol.2, p.264) Kilpatrick discusses the earliest papyri: “The Chester Beatty papyri and Bodmer papyri (around 200 AD) contain 70 verses of John, yet differ 73 times not counting mistakes”.

(‘The Transmission of the New Testament and its Reliability’, The Bible Translator LX, July 1958, p 128,129).

Zuntz says: “Modern criticism stops before the second century; the age of unbounded liberties with the text”. (The Text, p.11).

Kilpatrick states: `The creation of new variants ceased by about 200 AD because it became impossible to “sell” them‘. Well-informed buyers refused to pay for bad copies. Origen, the most influential commentator of the Ancient Church, attempted to change Matthew 19:19, yet it influenced only one manuscript, not affecting the Greek tradition. From the 3rd Century onwards, even an Origen could not effectively alter the text. Also, secondly, from the early 3rd Century onward, the freedom to alter the text, which had happened earlier, could no longer be practised.

ii)     Aberrant text forms. Gaius, who wrote about 190 AD, named four heretics who altered the New Testament text and had disciples who made altered copies. Gaius said that they could not deny their guilt because they could not produce the originals from which they made their copies. (The Revision Revised, Burgon, p.323). This would be a hollow accusation from Gaius if he could not produce his originals either.

Five reasons prohibiting the spread of new false text forms were:

a)    Polycarp in 150AD would still be able to confirm New Testament original readings.

b)   Autographs being readily available pressured against corrupt readings.

c)    The Majority Text form exerted pressure of its already established momentum of transmission. The market demand by Christians for accurate NT copies guaranteed a large and increasing multiplication of Traditional text manuscripts. Corrupt manuscripts died out because they became difficult to sell. They became unmarketable.

d)   When two or more Ancient Bible Versions in different languages agreed, this would strongly establish any disputed reading. The early missionaries would first ensure that they had the best Greek text to translate from. Hence the Syriac Version or the Old Latin Version of the second centuries are clear witnesses to the Traditional text.

e)    Many early Church Fathers before 400 AD wrote letters quoting many Bible verses in response to attacks by heretics or unbelievers against Christian doctrine. By them quoting extensively from every part of the NT, a vast amount of highly credible evidence has been assembled which strongly supports the Traditional text readings of the KJV.

Question 5: What would the surviving manuscripts be like if the stream of transmission of New Testament manuscripts was normal?

Answer: We find one stream only, with a number of small eddies along the edges. Some manuscripts will have copying mistakes, yet still reflecting one tradition. Corrupt manuscripts would be sprinkled outside the main stream. This is just what we find, with the Majority Text dominating the stream of transmission.

Question 6: How do we explain the Majority Text’s 98% domination of manuscripts?

Answer: It must come from the originals. Hort disliked this, so he invented a theory that Lucian revised the New Testament text around 250 AD.

a) This theory has been abandoned as without any historical support. Note: The remaining 2% do not represent a single competing text form, but disagree more among themselves than they do with the Majority text.

Those who reject the Majority Text are faced with a serious problem. If Lucian revised the originals to give the Majority Text, many people would have protested that he was changing the original.

b) Yet no protest exists in history. Checking the Autographs was still possible in 250 AD. Text history explains Majority manuscript accuracy and Minority manuscript mistakes.

The Sinaitic Manuscript. This page shows the close of Mark’s Gospel and the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. In this manuscript the Gospel of Mark concludes with verse 8.

Pastor David L. Brown writes:  “…I went to the British Museum, specifically to take a look at Sinaiticus. To my surprise I discovered that, while Mark 16:9-20 indeed was missing, it was clear to see that it had originally been there, but had been pumiced (erased) out.

The space was still evident in the codex and the letters could faintly be seen.”


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