Textual Criticism in a Nutshell

I have a growing interest in the textual criticism in the New Testament, and I have hopes of pursuing this interest at the doctoral level. However, I realize that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with what exactly textual criticism is – sounds a bit scary to associate the term “criticism” with the Bible, eh?! Don’t be scared. This field of study is very important to maintaining and trusting in the reliability of the New Testament.

Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen has written a good blog post that helps to introduce the beginner into the TC (textual criticism) world. Check out the link below to read the post which was posted using ShareThis.

Textual Criticism in a Nutshell

Enjoy! Let me know your questions and/or comments about TC. Thank you all for reading and for your support.

In Christ,


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  1. #1 by nazaroo on November 27, 2010 - 7:32 pm

    Your link to Pen and Parchment may be a good introduction for a complete beginner, but he is bound to be misled by that post.

    For one thing, it speaks of John 7:53-8:11 as if it were a late addition to the Book of John, i.e., that this is a foregone conclusion, based on textual evidence.

    But this is actually false and misleading. We have a website which is the world’s largest database on John 8:1-11, where you can find literally hundreds of articles on the authenticity of this passage, and the gads of NEW evidence in support of its authenticity and authorship by John the Evangelist.

    For some key articles on the evidence, for beginners, try this link:

    If you want to actually see the oldest manuscripts themselves, try out manuscripts database here (100s of photos):

    If you want to find out the latest patristic evidence in favour of John 8:1-11, try this page:

    But for some truly spectacular recently uncovered INTERNAL evidence, try here:

    Some little-known but powerful Synoptic Evidence can be found in this section:

    For a complete history of the criticism of these verses in published Greek NTs go here:

    But all Christians should be able to benefit from these deep Christian commentaries:


    • #2 by rexhowe on November 29, 2010 - 2:54 am


      Thanks so much for your post. My link to the article from Parchment and Pen was indeed intended for “a complete beginner.” I do not have time at the moment to review the links you have supplied; however, once I complete the current semester, I look forward to looking into the information you have provided.

      Let me say at the outset that differing assumptions in one’s NTTC method are often at the root of how one interprets the evidence. My initial thoughts stem primarily from the text critical note on the pericope adulterae provided in the New English Translation/Novum Testamentum Graece Diaglot (see discussion on pages 839–40). The external evidence marshaled against the inclusion of the pericope is substantial—nearly all Alexandrian witnesses exclude the pericope, only D among the Western (Greek) witnesses testify to its inclusion, thus leaving the Byzantine having the most Greek witnesses testifying to its inclusion. However, even A (which is of the Byzantine tradition in the Gospels) is defective at this point in John and appears to exclude the pericope due to insufficient space. Therefore, unless one goes the route of the “majority text” rather than the eclectic approach or even the independent text-type method, the external evidence is wanting—let alone the various locations of the pericope not only in John but also (even) in Luke, after 21:38 in f13.

      As mentioned earlier, I am curious as to the internal evidence you have to offer. I have read other favorable evidence for the inclusion of the pericope; however, more often than not, these can be countered with internal evidences for the exclusion of the pericope. Perhaps the most telling of the internal evidences against its inclusion is that the pericope lacks congealment with the grammar and vocabulary of Johannine literature. With most of the internal evidence being subjective in nature, I find this latter point very persuasive.

      Combining then the external evidence and the internal evidence, the pericope appears to be a later addition to John’s Gospel (and even Luke’s!). However, I will review the information you have provided. What I provided here is where I am starting prior to reading your material. I look forward to responding more fully later. Thanks again for your comment.


  2. #3 by nazaroo on December 1, 2010 - 5:29 pm

    Dear Rex: Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response.

    The textual evidence side of things is actually much more positive than is usually presented. Some of the more important and remarkable facts on this case include the following:

    (1) There are only four surviving copies of John firmly dated earlier than the 5th century. These are Codex Vaticanus (“B” – 4th c.), Codex (“Aleph” – 4th c.), Papyrus 66 (c. 250 A.D.), and Papyrus 75 (c. 300-350 A.D.).

    (2) All four of these manuscripts are heavily edited ecclesiastical copies, designed for public reading in church services. They do not preserve a pure, unedited text. Even the earliest two papyri were production copies from a scriptorium, “corrected” to make them conform to the Alexandrian text in vogue at the time of their production. A full description of them can be found here:


    (3) All four of these manuscripts show guilty knowledge of the Pericope Adultera (John 7:53-8:11). In fact, they all contain a special “dot & space” at this point in the text (between 7:52 / 8:12). In particular, Codex Vaticanus has a unique system of “umlauts” or double-dots in the margin, indicating textual variants. These were provided by the maker in the same way that Origen marked the LXX where it differed from the Hebrew text. You can view actual photos of all four here, and read about the umlauts in Codex B at W. Willker’s site:

    http://adultera.awardspace.com/TEXT/4MSS.html < – – photos of the 4 earliest copies of John

    http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Vaticanus/index.html < – – articles on the Umlauts of Codex B

    (4) Codex A (4th-5th c.) has 4 missing pages at the key place (from Jn 6:50b – 8:52). It is not possible to establish what this manuscript had at 7:52. These pages were deliberately torn out, confirming that there was a raging controversy over the verses in the 4th century, and malicious tampering, just as Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine reported.


    (5) Codex C (4th-5th c.) is a Palimpsest. That is, it is a collection of loose pages, stripped of their text and reused. The pages from Jn 7:3b-8:34a are completely missing, along with many others. Only diverse sections of the NT remain, with many lacuna.


    There are many other things to report regarding the textual evidence, but these suffice to show that it is not at all against the authenticity of the passage, but rather it witnesses to a well-known dispute over the verses in the 3rd and 4th century. Although these manuscripts are often characterized as “the oldest and best MSS”, they are in fact irrelevant to the question of whether the passage was deleted or inserted in John, since this happened 100 years prior to our oldest extant documents.

    The patristic evidence in favour of the verses is overwhelming, with just about every important early father mentioning them, including opponents of Christianity.

    (6) Of particular interest is the fact that Constantine, who ruled the church with an iron fist, boiled his own wife to death for adultery.


    (7) Constantine and Eusebius were quite capable of ‘censoring’ the Bible, and ordered that the Books of Kings be excluded from the Gothic translation, because they felt the Goths were “already too warlike”.


    This is just a teaser, but the total sum of the textual, patristic and versional evidence suggests these verses were removed by tampering.


    • #4 by rexhowe on January 17, 2011 - 11:00 pm


      Thanks for your continued interaction. Before addressing some of your points, I must ask you about your method of textual criticism. I think I know the presupposition which shapes your method, but I do not want to assume anything. This will help me and other readers a great deal in responding to your points. For example, does the Majority Text govern your examination of the internal and external textual evidence, or do you consider yourself starting with an Eclectic Method? Or perhaps you do textual criticism from a Rigorous (Thoroughgoing) Eclectism, or from an Independent Text-type view? Like I said, knowing where you are starting from, will help me a great deal, and it will also reveal areas where we are simply not going to see eye-to-eye due to our presuppositions.

      I begin with an Eclectic Method, which causes me to respond to your above points in such a way. First, to refer to the manuscripts/codices listed in your first point as only four surviving copies is a bit misleading. With regard to external evidence, these are also going to be our most influential copies because of their early date and place of provenance. This make me think that you are coming from a Majority Text view; that is, the testimony of the majority of manuscripts should be followed in most cases in our text critical decisions. I do not subscribe to such a view; majority of manuscripts does not necessarily equal authoritative testimony.

      Regarding point two and the issue of editing, this could be an accusation of any of our extant manuscripts—especially the majority text. Further, Roger Bagnall’s book Early Christian Books in Egypt shows sufficient data to call into question the existence of a scriptorium in Alexandria by the third century. This affects your assumption about the editing of P66. You cite Comfort with regard to the date of P66, who is not typical viewed as authoritative in the realm of NTTC, but if his earlier date is correct, this only complicates your argument according to Bagnall because the earlier you go, the less developed Christianity is in Egypt. While such a theory may be valid for P75, I question the assumption for the same reasons, even though its date is slightly later than P66. Regarding Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, I need to read more on monographs that have been written on these codices. I know what they are, and I have seen Codex Sinaiticus in person (what a blessing), but I question the assumption that the Church in Alexandria would not want to preserve the pericope if it had it. Further, Metzger states that the evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope adulterae is “overwhelming.” Only one Western witness (because the text of the Gospels in Codex A is Byzantine) testifies to the presence of the pericope, which is D—a codex well-known for a tendency to conflate. The tc note in the NET Diglot concludes,

      “the evidence could be summarized by saying that almost all early MSS of the Alexandrian texttype omit the pericope [genealogical solidarity], while most MSS of the Western and Byzantine texttype include it. But it must be remembered that ‘Western MSS’ here refers only to D, a single witness (as far as Greek MSS are concerned) [brackets mine].

      Thus, external evidence demonstrates (in my opinion) that the earliest and best MSS exclude the pericope. Internally, convincing subjective arguments can be made from both sides. I refer you to the NET Diglot note on John 7:53–8:11 for thorough arguments for and against the inclusion of the pericope. For me, the fluid placement of the the pericope in the Gospels (i.e., it is not always found between John 7:52–8:12, but also for example after Luke 21:38 in family 13 and after Luke 24:53 in MS 1333), questions regarding the vocabulary and style of the pericope compared to the rest of the Johannine Gospel (e.g., see “Reconsidering ‘The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery Reconsidered’,” NTS 39 [1993]: 290–96), as well as my interpretation of the external evidence convince me that the pericope adulterae is not an original part of John’s Gospel. It may well be that the pericope is an ancient and authentic tradition about Jesus, but if so, it exists outside the bounds of canonical literature.

      Regarding point 3, the meaning behind the “dots” or “umlauts” has been proposed and questioned by many. The tension around such a topic was most clearly illustrated to me when I watched Peter Head completely obliterate Philip Payne’s theory about the “double dots” in Codex Vaticanus. He suggested that the “double dots” were part of a system created in the 16th century and penned by Juan Gines de Sepulveda. You can follow this ongoing debate at http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/search?q=philip+payne. Therefore, the presence of the “dots” is not an open and shut case for “guilty knowledge of the Pericope Adulterae.”

      For point 4, this causes more trouble for your position than support for it. Indeed pages are missing, but it has been documented that the room necessary to include the pericope is not available in the pages that are missing. That is upon calculation, there is simply not enough space to include the pericope in Codex A. See the tc note in the NET Diglot (pp. 839–40).

      In response to point 5, it can hardly be said that the oldest and best MSS are irrelevant to the original content of John’s Gospel. This statement also only harms your position because if the earliest manuscripts are irrelevant, then the older manuscripts are even more irrelevant based upon such argumentation. Regarding Patristic evidence, please include your references. If a Patristic writer acknowledges the pericope as part of John, then yes it contributes to your case. If it simply references the content of the pericope without mentioning Johannine authorship, then it does nothing for your case. The latter only demonstrates the existence of the pericope, not the Johannine authorship of the pericope.

      Regarding points 6 & 7, I feel like you’re reaching at this point. Just to “play on your turf,” the Kings example had political motivation. You do not demonstrate how the content of the pericope would cause political motivation for its removal. What is it in the pericope that would cause Constantine to do such a thing, and more importantly, is there any historical evidence for such a theory?

      Lastly Nazaroo, I feel like you have failed to demonstrate why (first of all) the Church would tamper with John’s Gospel so as to remove this most beloved story and (second of all) even a government leader would remove a passage that promotes peace and forgiveness in the face of civil/religious unrest. With regard to NTTC, if you are acting on text critical presuppositions, that’s fine—we all do—but please let them be stated clearly and recognize that they are your presuppositions. I do appreciate your interaction over these last months, and hope to hear more from you.


    • #5 by rexhowe on February 8, 2011 - 1:03 pm

      I just read a portion from AnneMarie Luijendijk’s Greetings in the Name of the Lord: Early Christians and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri regarding book production at Oxyrhynchus (144–51). I quote here footnote 98 on page 150, “An autographed manuscript from Oxyrhynchus caused Roberts to comment: ‘That Oxyrhynchus in the third century may have been something of a Christian intellectual centre is suggested by the presence there of an autograph manuscript of an anti-Jewish dialogue’ (Manuscript, Society and Belief, 24 n. 5; re: P.Oxy. 17.2070; late-third cent.). Epp looked for signs of scholarly editing in Oxyrhynchus New Testament manuscript (from the second to the beginning of the fourth cent.) but concluded that there is no evidence: ‘We are not concerned with scribal activity per se, that is, normal or routine manuscript corrections or lection marks, including punctuation . . . our search is for editing marks—beyond the copying process—that reveal primarily a reader’s use and critical reaction to or interaction with the text’ (‘New Testament Papyri at Oxyrhynchus,’ in Sayings of Jesus [ed. Peterson et al.] 63). Epp found that ‘critical signs indicating scholarly editing . . . rarely if ever occur in the NT papyri at Oxyrhynchus or in other Christian literature there from the early period’ (ibid., 67). This can be explained from the way these texts were used: ‘early Christian books were essentially practical and produced for use in the life of the Christian community’ (ibid.). Thus, the accusation of “edited ecclesiastical copies” regarding the papyri is unfounded according to the evidence at Oxyrhynchus.

  3. #6 by Nazaroo on January 25, 2011 - 8:59 pm

    Hello Rex. Sorry about the delay in getting back to you on this.

    let me see if I can set you straight on a few points about my approach:

    (1) “ the presupposition which shapes (my) method” I think you may be misleading yourself here. There is no overriding general or singular ‘presupposition’ shaping my method, other than training in scientific methodology. First of all, as a scientist, and a fan of Occam’s Razor, I’m going to want to have as few ‘presuppositions’ as possible. Certainly I’m going to want to avoid presuppositions that might bias my investigation and analysis. Of course we can’t start completely from scratch, and I assume a rather common and natural world-view as to the laws of physics, gravity, and the colour of the sky in my world.

    If I could give articulation to one conscious ‘presupposition’, it might be that I embrace a belief in a basic objective reality (like any scientist), even if parts of that reality may be obscure and inaccessible to me as a scientist with limited resources. To this we may add that this belief in an objective reality may be coloured by a secondary belief in God and Christian values, but these were not my historical foundation. I was educated in the West as a modern secular-humanist/atheist, and that was the foundation of my scientific training.

    But I suspect you were not hoping for this kind of an answer, because of your example(s):

    (2) “does the Majority Text govern your examination of the internal and external textual evidence or, …”eclectic method” , or “rigorous eclecticism”, or a “text-type” viewpoint…

    This question is quite disappointing, but not surprising, from my point of view. I feel of course that if you had more thoroughly explored our copious site, that this question would not arise. For instance, I and my associates have published scathing critiques and analysis of all these supposed “methods”, and dismissed them all as subjective nonsense and apologetic crap both onsite and all over the internet. As an example, (of hundreds of articles),

    For a page full of such examinations, try here:

    But I think you were hoping to avoid having to work to discover this the ‘hard way’, and you were hoping for a ‘fast track’ to the heart of the matter. As a scientist I greatly respect this desire for efficiency. So I’m going to try to step you rapidly through the issues to bring you up to speed. Otherwise, we are going to be looking at each other strangely, in the manner of Dr. Livingston in Africa being questioned by the local witch-doctor on whether or not dried-gourd rattles were more effective than sea-shell necklaces for curing leprosy.

    Your use of the word “govern” above is deeply disturbing. As a scientist I don’t allow any axiom, assumption, or ‘presupposition’ to govern my activities at all. Any such items are simply tools, to pick up and use when useful and to put down when it is apparent they are the wrong tool or simply unnecessary.

    The “Majority Text” or Byzantine text-type is a good example of this. Its a glaring fact, and no textual critic researching the NT can ignore its obvious historical reality. Nor can he do without it in his toolbox, for it is an essential tool. Those who do, are simply not practicing science. This has nothing to do with whether the Byzantine text is the best text, the most accurate text, or a completely fabricated one. It has everything to do with scientific method, and unbiased, detached, non-emotional, intelligent and efficient procedure.

    To put it bluntly, when dealing with some 5,000 manuscript texts, and 10,000 MSS of various versions, there is no other way to deal with the data in terms of recording it, collating it, cataloging it and classifying it, than to use the Majority Text or something very much like it as a base. This would be true whether we were collating by hand in the 19th century, or using scanners and computers in the 21st.

    I explain this clearly in layman’s terms in the following article. Any textual critic who tells you there is any other scientific way to proceed is simply talking nonsense, and has no grasp of the mechanics of the scientific task at hand:


    Again I emphasize that scientific procedure is the same, regardless of the accuracy, usefulness, or final value of the TR, ‘Majority text’, or Byzantine text-type.

    This should get us started. I’ll post some more when you’ve had a chance to absorb these points.


    • #7 by rexhowe on February 4, 2011 - 3:14 pm


      Thanks again for your continued interaction. It has been stimulating to read through your material and to be challenged a bit in my thinking. I’ll try to respond to the points you’ve raised.

      (1) Presuppositions—I appreciate both your desire to have limited presuppositions in your approach as well as your honesty that some presuppositions are inevitable.

      (2) NTTC Method—I apologize for not being more aware of the articulation of your method; however, you did not provide me with this link, http://textualcriticism.scienceontheweb.net/AG/Snapp-Eclecticism.html, in any of your previous comments. So, unless I just would happened to come across this part of your website, I am not sure that I would have been able to ascertain your method via links provided previously. I did read in full the discussion regarding Equitable Eclecticism. I experienced the truthfulness of your comments about “scathing” reviews and “subjective nonsense and apologetic crap.” Overall, my initial impression is twofold: (1) you somewhat heartlessly tread on those who have come before you and paved the way (sure some potholes were left in the road but something of a road has been constructed—Epp is the best at expressing the desiderata of the field); (2) the articulation of Equitable Eclecticism and the dialogue surrounding it is extremely dependent upon previous thinking, previously established canons of NTTC, and continues to possess an element of subjectivity. You yourself stated in your last response,

      Your use of the word “govern” above is deeply disturbing. As a scientist I don’t allow any axiom, assumption, or ‘presupposition’ to govern my activities at all. Any such items are simply tools, to pick up and use when useful and to put down when it is apparent they are the wrong tool or simply unnecessary.

      Yet, you decide when to pick up a tool or to put down a tool and how to use a tool. This is subjective, and it could be argued that it is more subjective than submitting to a method with communal input. That is, extreme independence rarely leads to helpful contribution; it typically breeds extreme subjectivity. Now, I do think that in the long run your desire is to produce a method that is universally helpful, but if I understand you correctly, you are willing to abandon all else to get there. Here, you also comment on the employment of the Byzantine text. I am in agreement that the Majority Text serves as our best base text when doing analysis and collation. No problems here. However, I do not think that a reading in the MT is superior to a reading in another MS. Other factors need to be considered and particular canons (with which you are well aware) need to be applied when making a decision about the reconstructing the text.

      One more thing to note; I understand the desire for solid canons for NTTC that are as objective as possible, and I agree. However, I am not as certain as you that one can avoid art (i.e., subjectivity) in certain scenarios. In some cases, you have to make a decision, and the decision is no more clear after applying all of the objective canons available—but a decision still must be made. This is why I am an advocate for organizations like CSNTM and projects being undertaken in Oxyrhynchus and elsewhere. More evidence minimizes subjectivity—at least in my mind. However, since I do not anticipate ever recovering an original autograph, I foresee that a degree of art will always need to accompany science when engaging in NTTC. Now, what can be helpful when art is applied in one’s method is honesty and peer-review, that is, doing NTTC in community.

      In Christ,

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