Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ancient Marginal Notes on Variant Readings

Map of Constantinople by Sebastian Munster (ca. 1550)
At the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society Meeting, an exciting series of lectures were given in the session entitled "Growing Up in the Ehrman Era: Retrospect and Prospect on Our Text-Critical Apologetic." I was unable to attend the meeting but fortunately was able to listen to the audio recordings of each presentation. The lecture by Greg Lanier, "Dating Myths: Why Later Manuscripts Can Be Better Manuscripts" was particularly good. In the midst of his excellent paper, one of the things that Lanier highlights is the manuscript GA 1582 studied in Amy Anderson's excellent work "The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew." 

GA 1582 is a Gospel codex that was carefully copied in 948 CE by the Constantinopolitan scribe Ephraim (Anderson, 6, 24). Ephraim produced several carefully copied manuscripts, one of which being Codex GA 1739, a collection of Acts and the epistles copied from a much older exemplar. One of the peculiar features of both of these manuscripts are a series of extensive marginal notations indicating textual problems. Anderson stated that "the text and marginalia of 1582 provide a record of early textual variation" (Anderson, 69). She also notes that
"it is unlikely that the marginalia are the result of Ephraim's own gathering of variants. Rather, Ephraim has preserved marginalia compiled by a much earlier scholar" (Anderson, 69).
One of the clues that points to a late 5th century compilation for the marginalia in 1582 is that Cyril of Alexandria is the latest father cited who died in the 440s CE (Anderson, 70).

Three interesting marginal notes are found at the end of the Gospel of Mark and at the end of John introducing the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
Instead of the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery being found at John 7:53-8:11 like most medieval Greek manuscripts, it is placed at the end of John with a long marginal note stating,

“in most copies it is not found. And not from the comments of the holy fathers; John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopseustia...”

1582 at the end of John showing textual note before the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
Another series of marginal notes are found at the end of the Gospel of Mark. At the end of Mark 16:8 there is a note before the longer ending of Mark. This note reads in part,

"In some of the copies up to this point the gospel ends also up to to which Eusebius Pamphilus made his cannons. But in many also these [verses] are also found."

1582 Marginal at the end of Mark 16:8 and before the longer ending.

Another note is found in the long ending of Mark in the margin at 16:19. This marginal note reads,

"Irenaeus, who was near to the apostles, in the third book ‘Against Heresies’ quotes this saying as found in Mark.”

1582 marginal note at Mark 16:19

The compiler's knowledge of the church fathers is revealed in this note for Irenaeus does indeed quote from Mark 16:19 in his "Against Heresies" 3.10.5 reads, "Also towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says, “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven , and sitteth on the right hand of God” (ANF 1:426).

These series of marginal notes reveals a knowledge and concern for textual variation in the manuscript tradition. Even in 10th century Constantinople, when many of the Greek New Testament manuscripts produced contained the longer ending of Mark and the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery, scribes such as Ephraim were copying older texts and marginalia that discussed these textual problems.


Amy S. Anderson, "The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew." (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Review of; "A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament" by Philip Wesley Comfort

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. By Philip Wesley Comfort. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015, 416 pp., $29.99.

 This book review had originally been written nearly two years previously and was submitted to a journal for publication. After languishing in their ‘accepted’ folder for months, it was subsequently withdrawn from submission and, instead, published on ‘The Textual Mechanic’ blog and on
As the methods of New Testament textual criticism develop and as more manuscripts are discovered, handbooks and textual commentaries of the New Testament require updating and revision. Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament endeavors to provide such an updated resource. This work is a concise handbook on the manuscripts of the New Testament, a brief introduction to the theory and practice of textual criticism, a commentary on textual variations within the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, and an introduction to the curious scribal features known as nomina sacra.
Philip Comfort is senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House publishers and has taught at Trinity Episcopal Seminary, Wheaton College, Columbia International University, and Coastal Carolina University. He is well known for the Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (2001), edited together with David P. Barrett, and for his New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (2008).
In the introduction of A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament Comfort set out the goal for the work when he wrote, “[i]n this commentary readers will be reading commentary on actual manuscripts. . . No other Bible commentary does this” (p. 7). Besides providing annotation on textual variation, every instance where a nomina sacra appears within the text of these manuscripts is noted throughout the commentary.
Between the brief introduction and chapter one is placed a segment entitled simply as “Early Manuscripts” (p. 11-14). In this section, the earliest manuscript evidence is presented by chapter for each New Testament book. Though some may dispute the earlier dates given for some of the papyri (see discussion below), the list accurately reflects the manuscript data (regardless of dates) extant for each New Testament book.
Chapter one, “Introducing the Manuscripts, Text, and Nomina Sacra,” briefly presents the New Testament papyri (p. 20-22) and “Significant Uncial Manuscripts” (p. 22-23). Next, under the heading “Assessing the Manuscripts to Establish the Text of the New Testament,” Comfort orients the reader to the methods used to weigh manuscripts according to their textual “accuracy” (p. 23-29). Under this heading, the textual relationship between P66, P75, and B is surveyed (p. 24-26), and the Alands’ classification of manuscripts into the “strict,” “normal,” “at least normal,” and “free” categories is evaluated (p. 27-28). Comfort then provides some “corrective” to several of the Alands’ classifications and then proposes his own set of terminology in categorizing these papyri (p. 28-29). Following this, under the heading “The Canons of Textual Criticism,” he surveys the internal criteria used by critics to evaluate which reading gave rise to all the others in each variant unit (p. 29-31). The chapter closes by briefly introducing the nomina sacra, which are found within nearly all of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (p. 31-41).
Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” presents the 127 New Testament papyri with their editio principes and (for the more significant papyri) a brief analysis of their dates and textual character (p. 41-91). This segment closes with a section subtitled “Other Papyrus Manuscripts,” which discusses the Egerton Gospel, P. Antinoopolis 2.54, P.Oxy 655, and P.Oxy 5073 (p. 91-92). Under the heading “Significant Uncial Manuscripts,” the primary majuscule codices are listed with their editio principes, date, textual make-up, and characteristic features (p. 93-111). Next are listed the most important “Minuscules” with their dates, historical features, characteristics, and textual make-up (p. 11-113). Included under this heading are brief discussions of Family 1 (p. 111-112) and Family 13 (p. 112). Next, “Ancient Versions” are listed with a concise introduction, approximate date when the version first appeared, and, if applicable, the major manuscripts used in consulting the version (p. 115-123). The versions listed are, Syriac, Old Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, and the translation of the Diatessaron. Chapter two is completed by listing out, with no discussion, the “Church Fathers” consulted in this commentary along with their date (p. 123-124).
The Greek New Testament textual commentary begins in chapter three, which encompasses “The Synoptic Gospels” (p. 127-245). Chapter four deals solely with “The Gospel According to John” (p. 247-276). The “Acts of the Apostles” is discussed in chapter five (p. 277-298). Chapter six examines “The Epistles of Paul” (p. 299-369). Chapter seven is dedicated to the epistle of “Hebrews” (p. 371-382). In chapter eight “The General Epistles” are reviewed (p. 383-403). The textual commentary portion of the volume concludes with chapter nine, “The Revelation of John” (p. 405-413). Between the end of chapter nine and the appendix appears a brief “Select Bibliography” (p. 415-418).
The volume closes with an appendix entitled “The Significance of the Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names)” (p. 419-443). In this appendix, Comfort continues the brief introduction of the nomina sacra found in chapter one. The following nomina sacra abbreviations are discussed in full: “Lord” (p. 419-420), “Jesus” (p. 420-423), “Christ” (p. 423-424), “God” (p. 424-427), and “Spirit” (p. 427-433). The remainder of the appendix discusses other nomina sacra abbreviations found in the New Testament manuscripts under the heading “Other Prominent Divine Names: Father, Son, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David” (p. 433-441). In the appendix, Comfort argues that the “nomina sacra were intended to be understood only by initiates—i.e., those trained to read and decode the New Testament writings for their congregations” (p. 420). He also states that the “name ‘Jesus’ was treated as a nomen sacrum very early” and that it was likely the “second nomina sacra to be created—following right behind (if not concurrent with) ‘Lord’” (p. 420). Because the scribe of P46 inconsistently employed the nomen sacrum for “Spirit,” Comfort argues that this codex must be early, copied during the “transition” period in which this nomen sacrum was first being developed (p. 428-429).
Those who are familiar with Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (2008) may wish to learn of the similarities and differences between the two volumes. Due to space considerations, it is impossible to evaluate every point of commentary, therefore, this review will limit itself to two well-known variation units: the ending of Mark, and the Pericope de Adultera in John. At nine pages, the commentary on the endings of Mark is quite lengthy (p. 197-206). Comfort discusses the five variation units along with their manuscript, versional, and patristic attestation. The discussion appears to be taken nearly word-for-word from his Text and Translation Commentary. In contrast, though Comfort discusses the manuscript, versional, and patristic evidence, the commentary on the Pericope de Adultera, at two pages (p. 258-259), is highly abridged when compared to his Text and Translation Commentary. Therefore, it appears that some of the material is nearly identical and some an abridgment of the commentary already published in his previous Text and Translation Commentary. Only two features are absent in the current commentary, a list of English Bible translations that contain a particular reading, and the Greek text of the variation units. When variation units are listed, only English translations of the readings are provided.
There are some noteworthy shortcomings to A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Readers may be disappointed to learn that there is no discussion of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), which is now being used by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) to produce the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). Along these same lines, Comfort seems to have completely disregarded the 34 changes in the Catholic (General) Epistles in the ECM that were incorporated into the main text of the NA28. Users who may have Comfort’s new commentary open alongside their NA28 edition of the Greek New Testament will be disappointed that there is absolutely no discussion of theses variations in light of the CBGM. Especially considering the conjectural emendation that has been incorporated into the main text of the NA28 at 2 Peter 3:10.
Significant criticism has already been directed towards Comfort’s other publications with regard to the palaeographic method employed to date some of the papyri earlier than the dates assigned in the NA28. Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse have critiqued Comfort’s tendency to date papyri by comparing single letters and words. Instead, they argue, Comfort should be dating papyri by placing the hand in question within the history of a graphic type (“Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” ETL 88.4 (2012), p. 450). Comfort has made no attempt to clarify or defend his dating method against these criticisms. Users of this commentary may come away with the (wrong) impression that some of Comfort’s assigned dates are more broadly accepted in the palaeographical community.
With that said, in most cases Comfort’s assigned dates for the papyri align with the standard dates given in the NA28. In some instances, his proposed dates fall on the lower end of the more broadly accepted ranges, or are twenty five to fifty years earlier (see for example P46, P52, P66, and P75). Most non-specialists would not see these differences as significant. At the very least, including the more broadly accepted dates alongside his own would have served better the purpose of a handbook on the manuscripts of the New Testament and would better represent the discipline of palaeography.
Most typographical mistakes are minor and forgivable, however, there is one major error in this commentary that might be distracting for users. It appears that at some point during the planning stages, what is now chapter one “Introducing the Manuscripts, Text, and Nomina Sacra,” was meant to be chapter two. Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” gives a detailed list and commentary on the manuscripts of the New Testament, was meant to be chapter one. During the course of the introduction in chapter one, when a particular manuscript is mentioned, the text reads “see discussion above,” presuming readers had already encountered the annotated list of manuscripts, but this annotated list occurs later, in chapter two. Even more confusing, in the appendix, “The Significance of the Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names),” the text reads, “[t]his appendix provides a continued discussion of the Nomina Sacra as presented in chapter two” (p. 419). However, the Nomina Sacra were discussed in chapter one, and readers who may pick up the commentary and turn immediately to the appendix may be confused as to where in the volume they may find the previous discussion of the nomina sacra.
One particularly disappointing error is found in the first paragraph of Chapter One, “Introducing the Manuscripts.” Here Comfort compares the “over 5,500 manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament, or portions thereof.” Boasting that “[n]o other work of Greek literature can boast of such numbers. Homer’s Iliad, the greatest of all Greek classical works, is extant in about 650 manuscripts; and Euripides’s tragedies exist in about 330 manuscripts” (p. 19). Of course, these numbers are woefully out of date. For example, a simple search on Leuven Database of Ancient Books ( reveals that there are well over 1500 copies of Homer’s Iliad extant. For a work that is purporting to be commentary on manuscripts, this is an unfortunate mistake and hopefully is not representative of other less obvious errors in the rest of the work.
Despite these drawbacks, Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is a valuable handbook that can be used alongside Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed. 1994) and the NA28. Comfort’s commentary is bound in a similar hardback format with nearly identical dimensions as the NA28, and, along with a ribbon bookmark, makes for a nice companion volume that is easily portable.
The section entitled, “Early Manuscripts” is an excellent reference for quickly determining the earliest manuscript support by chapter for each New Testament book (p. 11-14). This will be particularly useful for pastors, preachers, and students of the New Testament text. It provides a strong visual representation of the manuscript attestation, which for some books, like Matthew and John, is remarkably extensive and early.
Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” is nearly worth the price of the volume. It provides a handy reference, especially for non-specialists, who may be working through a particular passage in the New Testament and come across an unfamiliar manuscript or versional sigla in the apparatus. The list of editio principes, date, textual make-up, and characteristic features provide a quick reference for those who wish to examine a specific manuscript in greater detail.
Finally, the most useful feature of this commentary is that it offers a wealth of information on the location of nomina sacra within the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As far as this reviewer knows, there is no other resource which provides a textual commentary on the nomina sacra in this way. For each New Testament book, Comfort has annotated when a particular manuscript uses a nomina sacra within the text. This feature is a valuable resource for those engaging in a systematic study of the nomina sacra. Comfort highlights these curious scribal features in such a way that many who use this commentary will probably encounter them for the first time.
These features outweigh the shortcomings of the volume and the low price ensures its accessibility for a broader readership. Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is a valuable handbook that will prove useful to pastors, preachers, students, and scholars of the New Testament manuscripts and text.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

New Testament Textual Transmission in the Catalina Foothills

On Sunday December 17th of 2017, I was invited by Dan Grossenbach to share some of my research for the "Reason Why?" Class at Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson, AZ
I primarily covered the material I presented at the 2017 Boston SBLAM. This concerns my research into Greco-Roman publication and how it intersects with the textual transimission of the New Testament. 
The class attendees were excellent, absorbing a lot of information and responding with great questions and feedback. They certainly kept me on my toes!
I wanted to extend a thank you to Dan Grossenbach and to those at Catalina Foothills Church for a wonderful and rewarding experience.