THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE
NEW TESTAMENT TEXT
The history of the development of the New Testament begins (of course)
with the original text. The first document to contain the original text is
called the "autograph." That is what the "A" in this box stands for.
By "autograph," I do not necessarily mean the text written by the main
author and only the text written by the main author. If I did, we would
probably have to toss out John 21:24 and Romans 16:22 ~ since John 21:24
seems to be written by someone other than John, and Romans 16:22
obviously originated with Tertius, not Paul. By "autograph" I refer to the
first manuscript to contain the text in its original, definitive, published form.
Copies of the autographs were hand-copied in different locations.
But not everyone treated the text the same way when they made copies. Just as there are
differences between British English and American English, there were differences between Greek
dialects, and adjustments were made accordingly. There were also different ideas -- held by
different people in different areas -- about how the text should be treated. These ideas
influenced the contents of the copies, in at least three different ways.
As copies were made and re-copied in the first three centuries of the church, at least three
different types of text arose. Each text-type had its own characteristics, which were
determined in part by the approach taken by copyists to the text.
The Western Text [pictured in red] contained many expansions,
harmonizations, and paraphrases. The "Western" approach was
basically, "Make the text clear by adding to it." The message, not
the words themselves, seems to have been the main thing to the
Western copyists. The Western Text omits some phrases, too;
some of these omissions are attributable to sloppy copying. Also,
some "Western" manuscripts show signs of doctrinal tampering,
although the question of exactly who was behind the tampering
has not been entirely resolved.
The Alexandrian Text [in blue] contained grammatical refinements and sometimes "pruned"
the text, removing repetitions and words and phrases which the copyists considered
superfluous. The "Alexandrian" approach was basically, "Make the text clear by refining it."
Because of the nice climate of Egypt, most ancient manuscripts which contain the Alexandrian
Text have been discovered in Egypt.
The Caesarean Text [in green] seems to have mostly been a result of copyists – in a place
where there were both Western and Alexandrian manuscripts (like Caesarea) – comparing
Western manuscripts and Alexandrian manuscripts, and picking and choosing between the
two. Sometimes, though, the Caesarean Text features a variant which is neither Alexandrian
nor Western. The Caesarean Text is a text of the Gospels.
Now I want to jump forward in time from this diagram, which depicts a theory of how the
New Testament text had developed in the period from the first century to around A.D. 250, to
a different diagram, which will depict an important theory (proposed in 1881) about how
another text-type originated.
A four-part lesson by Jim Snapp II