Having established God's promise to preserve His Word to all generations from all who would dare alter it, the question arises, “Where is it?” If God's Word is available today, then where is it? If God requires us to live by every word, and has preserved every word, then we must have every word. But where is it? God's inspired, preserved Word IS available today, BOTH in the original languages, AND in translations. In this document, God's Word as preserved in the original languages will be examined.
Preserved in the Greek
God's preserved Word is available in the original Greek and Hebrew. The original autographs are the inspired Word of God. The copies of these originals form the inspired, preserved Word of God. God's Word, being preserved, has not lost it's inspiration. (The original Hebrew will be covered at a later time.)
The manuscript evidence proves that God has preserved His Word. There are three kinds of manuscript witnesses: The first is the manuscript copies, or the reproduction of the Scripture text in the original language. There are several different kinds of copies, including papyri, uncials, minuscules, cursives, and lectionaries. The second kind of witness is the versions, or ancient translations of the Scriptures into other languages. Quotations of the Scriptures by early church fathers is the third kind of witness.
However, when considering the original languages, it must be realized that there are disagreements among the manuscripts. The manuscripts do not have the exact same text. About 80% of the Bible text is undisputed, while 20% is disputed. But, as shall be seen, this does not disprove preservation. Manuscripts have been classified into text-types based on the text they contain. A text-type is a group of manuscripts containing a similar text, having a general agreement, especially on passages on which other manuscripts have different readings. Thus, there are several different branches of the Greek text.
The two main text-types are the Byzantine and the Alexandrian. Which of these is the true Word of God? Most modern Bible versions have come from the Alexandrian text, while virtually all Protestant Reformation Bibles, including the KJV, have come from the Byzantine text. The Alexandrian text boasts the (supposedly) oldest known manuscripts, but very few manuscripts (1-5%) are of this type. The Alexandrian text practically disappeared after 400 A.D., only to be rediscovered in the mid 1800's. Over ninety-five percent of all known manuscripts are of the Byzantine text-type, and 99% of all manuscripts after 400 A.D., and new research has shown that the Byzantine text is as old as the Alexandrian. Supporters of the Alexandrian text insist that the Byzantine was a result of a revision of the Alexandrian. However, Byzantine advocates insist that the Alexandrian was produced by a revision of the Byzantine and was eventually rejected as heretical. (The Alexandrian text originated in Egypt, the source of the first church age heresies.)
So which is the true Word of God, the Byzantine, or the Alexandrian? Textual criticism is the science of the determining the correct reading of disputed readings. John W. Burgon, who served as the Dean of Chichester in the mid 1800's, established seven Biblical principles of textual criticism: continuity, antiquity, variety, number, weight, context, and internal considerations1. No one of these principles can alone verify a particular reading. The reading which shows the strongest evidence from the most of these is considered the true reading. Careful analysis of these shows the superiority of the Byzantine text over the Alexandrian.
Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;
1 Chronicles 16:15
God's Word, having been preserved unto all generations, will need to have to have been available to all generations. This is expressed in the principle of continuity, which states that the true text is the one manifested in all time periods. This is the core, the basis, of the doctrine of preservation.
If God's word has NOT been preserved, then the manuscript evidence would resemble Figure 1a. It would slowly divert and branch out from the original (represented by the dashed line), as the text evolved. If this is the case, the oldest manuscripts must be sought out in order to recover the original text.
Figure 1a. No Preservation. Figure 1b. With Preservation
However, if preservation is true, than the bulk of the manuscript evidence will remain grouped very close to the original throughout all time periods, with only a few heretical branches as the only ex
Figure 2: Alexandrian Preservation?
ception. The “evidence tree” will have a thick, upright trunk, with only a few branches, as shown in Figure 1b.
The Alexandrian text disappeared around 400A.D., and was resurrected in the mid 1800's. Therefore, this text does NOT display continuity. It went missing for 1,500 years. Did God loose His Word? If the Alexandrian text is God's Word, then the manuscript evidence resembles Figure 2, with the Scripture diverting from the original for fifteen centuries. On this point alone, the Alexandrian text is not the preserved Word of God. Thus, the doctrine of preservation is the strongest testimony against the Alexandrian text. The Byzantine text, however, shows complete continuity, back into antiquity, and it is at least as old as the oldest Alexandrian text.
Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
In order to maintain continuity, a reading must date back to ancient times. A text, having antiquity, completes the unbroken chain of succession from the original autographs until the present time. Thus, antiquity is an important criteria of textual criticism. However, some scholars make it the only criteria, not regarding other factors.
The Byzantine text is as old as the Alexandrian text, if not older. One of the principle arguments for the Alexandrian text, and against the Byzantine, is that the Alexandrian manuscripts are generally older than the Byzantine manuscripts. While there may be few Byzantine manuscripts dated before 350 A.D., this matters little to the “preservationalist;” a 14th century manuscript can be as good as a 4th century manuscript. However, the Byzantine text-type is evident BEFORE 400 A.D., in ancient versions (translations), and in the quotations of early church Fathers. The Peshitta Syriac (145 A.D.) and the Old Latin (157 A.D.) translations both originated in the second century. Of these, Bishop Ellicott, a contemporary of Burgon and an Alexandrian advocate, wrote “It is no stretch of the imagination to suppose that portions of the Peschito might have been in the hands of S. John, or that the Old Latin represented the current views of the Roman Christians of the IInd century.”2 These two versions show a definite Byzantine text-type, centuries before the oldest Alexandrian manuscript witness.3 A Gothic version of 330 A.D. also represents the text of the “majority of Greek manuscripts” (that is, the Byzantine text).4
The early church Fathers also testify of the antiquity of the Byzantine text. Burgon examined 46 Fathers who died before 400 A.D., and these Fathers were found to quote a Byzantine text at a ratio of 3:2 to other texts.5 More recent research by Dr. Jack Moorman has shown this ratio to be 7:3 (“2.3:1”) in favor of the Byzantine text.6 Therefore, both the ancient versions and the ancient Fathers show the existence and use of the Byzantine text before the close of the fourth century. Even though there are few known manuscripts from that time, the Byzantine text is still evident in other witnesses. This also shows the continuity of the Byzantine text from ancient times to modern. Virtually all scholars acknowledge the continuity and dominance of the Byzantine text after 350 A.D. This evidence showing the Byzantine text in use two centuries earlier proves continuity before 350 A.D. The fact of antiquity and continuity in the Byzantine text proves first that God has preserved His Word, and second, His preserved Word is found in the Byzantine text-type. Continuity is required for preservation, and this continuity is NOT found in the Alexandrian text-type. Preservation, however, transcends both antiquity and continuity.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
The disciples of Christ are commanded to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. They preached and distributed the Word as they went. Due to the missionary efforts resulting from the great commission, the Word of God has been distributed worldwide. The Bible has been translated into the languages of these distant lands. The principle of variety informs us that the true reading is that which is evident in diverse languages and diverse locales across the world. The true text has been taken across the world by missionaries. These diverse witnesses vary in their text, being “in no single instance absolutely identical in their text…”7 There are few, if any, manuscripts which agree exactly. This does not disprove preservation; it only insures that a particular text has not been enforced by a church authority or heretical cult. If multiple witnesses have the exact, word-for-word testimony, they will be accused of conspiracy and collusion.
No on can doubt, for it stands to reason, that Variety distinguishing witnesses massed together must needs constitute a most powerful argument for believing such evidence to be true. Witnesses of different kinds; from different countries; speaking different tongues:-witnesses who can never have met and between whom it is incredible that there should exist collusion of any kind:-such witnesses deserve to be listened to most respectfully. Indeed, when witnesses of so varied a sort agree in large numbers, that they must needs be accounted worthy of even implicit confidence…
Variety it is which imparts virtue to mere number, prevents the witness-box from being filled with packed deponents, ensures genuine testimony.8
Witnesses of different kinds, languages, and locations insure that the text hasn't been standardized and forced on the body of believers. Not only does variety show that God has preserved His Word through the Great Commission, it insures that the witnesses are independent and genuine.
The Alexandrian text is centered around Alexandria, Egypt, the region which spawned the first heresies. Alexandrian proponent D.A. Carson says of this text “This text-type was probably prepared by trained scribes, most likely in Alexandria and its regions.”9 Most of the Alexandrian manuscripts have been found in Egypt, as D.A. Carson admits: “…[M]ost early non-Byzantine manuscripts have been found in Egypt…”10 Alexandria is even recognized in the Bible as a place of bad and incomplete doctrine.
24. # And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
25. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
26. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
The Byzantine text originated around Antioch, Syria, where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), and the base of operations for Paul's missionary trips (Acts 15:35). The Byzantine text has spread worldwide due to the efforts of missionaries. Byzantine manuscripts “belong to so many divers countries,-Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Palestine, Syrian, Alexandria, and other parts of Africa, not to say Sicily, Southern Italy, Gaul, England and Ireland…”11 Thus, the Byzantine text shows geographic (and language) variety, while few Alexandrian manuscripts have been forced outside of Egypt.
The number refers to the amount of testimony in support of a particular reading verses the number against. This principle states that the reading with the highest number of witnesses is to be preferred. It is constantly said, that “witnesses are to be weighed, not counted.” However, number is the most natural form of weight.
But the axiom in question labours under the far graver defect of disparaging the Divine method, under which in the multitude of evidence preserved all down the ages provision has been made as a matter of hard fact, not by weight, but by number, for the integrity of the Deposit.12
It is the testimony of the text which God has chosen to preserve and propagate. It is the testimony against the text which God has rejected. The Byzantine text represents 95% of all manuscripts, while the Alexandrian is represented by less than 5%. This glaring difference in proportion is a fact that cannot be ignored.
For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.
The weight of an individual witness refers to it's respectability and reliability. Weight is a relative measure; it compares the respectability of witnesses one against another. Inferior manuscripts must be attributed less weight than those of a superior nature. Burgon gives us some criteria for establishing weight. First, if a manuscript is proven to be the exact transcript of another, they count as one, and not two manuscripts. Second, a single version outweighs a single copy, because translations would likely rely on multiple copies as their base text.13 Third, the testimony of a single church Father outweighs that of a single copy, because the date the Father lived is usually well established, while the date of a manuscript is subject to speculation14. However, the testimony of the body of copies as a whole outweighes the testimony of the Fathers and versions as a whole. But there is no known passage where the Fathers and Versions unite to disagree with the copies.15
The copies themselves are weighed based the proven reliability of their testimony. A copy whose readings for disputed passages are repeatedly proven correct by other testimony is attributed with greater weight. Likewise, a copy, repeatedly proven wrong, is given much less weight. Burgon explains: “As to the Weight which belongs to separate Copies, that must be determined mainly by watching their evidence. If they go wrong continually, their character must be low.”16 The witness, often proven wrong, is to be rejected as a false witness. So, the witness proven correct through other textual criticism criteria is to be given more weight each time.
A close examination of the primary Alexandrian manuscripts show them to be utterly unreliable. Dean Burgon and his colleagues studied and collated manuscripts of both text-types. He studied the five most revered Alexandrian manuscripts in depth. These include Alexandrinus (A), Sinaiticus (Aleph), Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi (C), and Bezae (D)17. Codex B is shown to be in error over 7500 times, while Aleph errs over 8900 times18. Codex D is in error over 13,000 times19. These manuscripts doesn't just disagree with the bulk of the evidence, but also among each other. Of all five, Burgon wrote, “they render inconsistent testimony in every verse.”20 Of B, Aleph, C and D, he concludes “It matters nothing [to their advocates] that all four are discovered on careful scrutiny to differ essentially, not only from ninety-nine out of a hundred of the whole body of extant MSS. besides, but even from one another.”21 As an example, Burgon examined two small portions of scripture in the five Alexandrian manuscripts, as compared with each other, and with the Byzantine text (which he calls the “Traditional” text). He enumerated the alternate readings (those differing from the Byzantine text, including omissions, additions, substitutions, and transpositions) of the five manuscripts, also with the numbers of peculiar readings (those found only in one manuscript). In Luke 8:35-44 (a randomly chosen passage), he found 124 alternate readings, an average of 25 per manuscript. The number of peculiar readings per manuscript are: Codex A – 2, Aleph – 8, B – 6, C – 15, D – 93.22 Most importantly, Burgon lists the number of times the alternate (or “various”) readings agree between the five manuscripts. In these ten verses, never do these five manuscripts agree on an alternate reading.23 In Mark 2:1-12, Burgon counted 60 alternate readings, yet the five manuscripts agree only once on an alternate reading.24 Of this variation among the Alexandrian manuscripts, Burgon makes the following note: “It must be further admitted, (for this is really not a question of opinion, but a plain matter of fact,) that it is unreasonable to place confidence in such documents. What would be thought in a Court of Law of five witnesses, called up 47 times for examination, who should be observed to bear contradictory testimony every time?”25 Therefore, these manuscripts are untrustworthy witnesses to the true text of the Word of God.
When Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, was on trial, witnesses were sought against Him, but none were found. “For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together.” (Mark 14:55-56). Likewise, as witness is sought against the written Word of God, the Byzantine text, witnesses are found, but their witness “agrees not together.” The revered Alexandrian manuscripts are proven to be inconsistent, and unreliable for reconstructing the original text. The Byzantine manuscripts, however, generally contain only minor variations.
Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth,
but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
1 Corinthians 2:13
The principle of context states that the correct reading for a disputed passage will fit in with the surrounding undisputed text. Burgon explains
A word,-a phrase,-a clause,-or even a sentence or a paragraph,-must have some relation to the rest of the entire passage which precedes it or comes after it. Therefore it will often be necessary, in order to reach all the evidence that bears upon a disputed question, to examine both the meaning and the language lying on both sides of the point in dispute.26
The correct reading will fit in with the undisputed portion of text. This principle is used verse by verse. Continuity is not able to prove a text type or an individual manuscript to bear the correct text at all times. Considering the context is very Biblical, as we are to compare scripture with scripture for an interpretation. To demonstrate this principle, two verses will be examined, Matthew 17:21 and Acts 8:37. Both of these are omitted in the Alexandrian text.
18. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
19. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20. And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
The disciples had failed at casting out a devil, and they asked Jesus why. He gave them two reasons: lack of faith, and the need for prayer and fasting. The omission of verse 21 removes half of His answer. (It also removes His instruction for casting out stubborn devils.) The context implies that this verse should be included.
35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
36. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
The Alexandrians tell us that vs 37 should be omitted. Philip is riding in the chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch and preaching to him the Gospel. The eunuch inquires of him of what is preventing him from being baptized. If verse 37 is omitted, the eunuch simply stops the chariot, and is baptized. However, this makes little sense. Philip does not answer his important question. The eunuch just asks his question, stops the chariot, and Philip baptizes him. Thus, this passage dictates the inclusion of verse 37. Also, this passage is one of the strongest witnesses for believer's baptism as opposed to infant baptism. Thus, considering the context is important on a verse-for-verse basis.
Internal evidence can also provide help for difficult passages. As Scripture is compared with Scripture, readings which create blatant contradictions with other passages are rejected in most cases. Other considerations include grammatical errors and geographical errors. Dean Burgon gives the example of Codex B having a mismatch in Greek word gender in Luke 19:3727. However, internal considerations are a form of circumstantial evidence, and should not be considered as primary evidence.
In conclusion, the preserved Word of God can be found in the Byzantine text-type. It displays continuity and antiquity, dating back at least as far as the Alexandrian. It possesses the vast majority of manuscripts, and has been found in manuscripts around the world. As it's manuscripts are in strong agreement, it is far more reliable than the Alexandrian text, the manuscripts of which disagree heavily amongst themselves. Therefore, the Byzantine text is the preserved Word of God, and the true text of the Bible. As the next article will cover, translations from the Byzantine text, when made correctly, preserve God's Word in the translated work.
1Adapted from Burgeon, Dean John William and Edward Miller, The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, pg 29.
2Quoted in Burgon, Dean John William. London: John Murray, Revision Revised, pg 9
3Grady, Dr. William P. Final Authority: A Christian's Guide to the King James Bible. Knoxville, TN: Grady Publications, Inc., 2005, pg 34-35
4Ibid., pg 34
5Burgon and Miller. The Traditional Text of the Holy Gospels, pg 94, 99-101
6Moorman, J.A. Early Manuscripts, Church Fathers, and the Authorized Version. Collingswood, NJ: The Bible for Today Press, 2005, pg 361
7Burgon and Miller, The Traditional Text, pg 51
8Ibid., pg 50
9Carson, pg 27
10Ibid., pg 49
11Burgon and Miller, The Traditional Text, pg 51
12Ibid., pg 44
13Ibid., pg 56
14Ibid., pg 57
15Ibid., pg 58
16Ibid., pg 58
17Codex Bezae is now more commonly classified as “Western” as opposed to “Alexandrian.”
18Burgon, The Revision Revised, pg 12
19Ibid., pg 13
20Ibid., pg 31
21Ibid., pg 11-12
22Ibid., pg 17
24Ibid., pg 30-31
25Ibid., pg 30
26Burgon and Miller. The Traditional Text, pg 61
27Ibid., pg 65