Friday, June 23, 2017

No Two Biblical Manuscripts Are The Same? Old and New Testament Evidence

Have you heard the oft-repeated assertion that "no two Biblical manuscripts are the same?"  It is one of the most often-repeated arguments by enemies of the God of Scripture and opponents of perfect preservation.  However, it is simply false. There are early copies that are identical to the later printed texts.  For example, you can view the Qumran manuscript 4QGenb (4Q2) here.  A picture from this manuscript, which dates to c. A. D. 50, is below:

This manuscript "is identical to codex L," (Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 3rd ed. [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012], 31), the basis for the common printed Hebrew Bible published by the United Bible Society, as well as being identical to the Hebrew Received Text published by the Trinitarian Bible Society.  You are, thus, viewing with your eyes a very ancient Hebrew text that is identical to printed editions of the Hebrew Bible.

What about for the New Testament? Consider the copy below:

P52, the oldest undisputed fragment from the Gospel of John, dates between A. D. 90-125 (J. Kenneth Eakins et al., “Archaeology and Biblical Study,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 100; Lee Strobel, In Defense of Jesus:  Investigating Attacks on the Identity of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2007), “Interview #2, Daniel B. Wallace.”)  It contains a Greek text that is identical to modern printed editions of the Gospel of John.  P52 was discovered in an obscure village in Egypt a great distance from Ephesus, where the Gospel of John was composed, demonstrating that the book had been in circulation for quite some time before this very ancient manuscript was copied.  Keener explains:

This text’s discovery far from the Gospel’s likely places of origin pushes its proposed date of writing back at least a quarter century[.] . . . Nor does the manuscript allow us to suppose that this represents a pre-Johannine tradition on which John based part of his Gospel . . .[this] oldest fragment of the Gospel of John . . . does not differ by a single word from our printed Greek texts. . . . 𝔓52 . . . proves the [early] existence and use of the Fourth Gospel in a little provincial town along the Nile, far from its traditional place of composition (Ephesus in Asia Minor)[.] (Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary & 2, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012], 141–142.)

Thus, very ancient manuscripts of the Bible that are exactly identical with modern printed texts exist.

Furthermore, there are many Biblical manuscripts that represent the text-type found in the Textus Receptus and the Authorized, King James Version that are identical with each other even over the space of entire books.  (This is not the case with the inferior and tiny minority of manuscripts that support the modern Greek critical text). For example, click here to view four manuscripts from widely separated parts of the world, copied in different centuries (and collated by Dr. Wilbur Pickering), that have a text that is absolutely identical for the entire book of Titus

One can contrast this extremely careful copying of the Received Text with the very careless copying of the favorite MSS of the critical text, Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (Aleph). Herman Hoskier did a full collation of Aleph and B, and in the Gospels he found the following:[1]

Disagreements between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus

Compare this with the differences between the Westcott-Hort or critical Greek text and the Received Text in the entire New Testament:

TR Has 140,521 Greek words. W/H changes 5,604 places in the N.T.
TR has 647 pp. in Greek Text. W/H changes include 9,970 Greek words.
TR has 217 Greek words. per page. W/H changes 15.4 Greek words per page.
TR has 100% of the Greek words. W/H changes 7% of the Greek words.
TR has all 647 pp. unchanged. W/H changes total 45.9 pp. in Greek text.[2]

The number of differences between Aleph and B just in the Gospels is comparable to the number of Greek words in which the TR and the W/H text differ in the entire NT--if one extends the average number of disagreements in the Gospels between Aleph and B over the entire NT, there would be more disagreements between the two MSS that critical text advocates falsely claim are the best than there are between the Received Text and the W/H printed editions!

Facts such as these--and there are many more where these came from--should put to rest the myth that there are no Biblical manuscripts that are identical with each other.  They should also show the unsoundness of the critical Greek text and the modern Bible versions based upon it and the superiority of the preserved Word of God contained in the Hebrew and Greek Received Texts from which the Authorized, King James Version was translated.

[1]           Herman Hoskier, Codex B and its Allies:  A Study and an Indictment, vol. 2 (London:  Bernard Quaritch, 1914) 1.
[2]           Donald Waite, Defending the King James Bible (Collingswood, NJ:  Bible for Today, n. d.) “Forward.”


Tyler Robbins said...

Thanks for the info on the manuscripts.

Your point about p52 is irrelevant; the point at issue is whether any two NT manuscripts were identical. Comparing p52 to a printed text is meaningless.

I fear you're seizing on an obscure point in Pickering's book and making rather too much of it. I don't really care if two manuscripts are identical. The fact remains, the insanely overwhelming majority of them are not identical. There are mistakes. That is the issue. However, I do take Pickering's point that there are a few manuscripts which are identical. Understood.

In all my interactions on this site, all my perusal of the standard texts, I have yet to understand why TR guys prefer the TR to a Byzantine text. Pickering himself is a Byzantine guy, and he believes preservation occurred through f35.

This is the crux of the issue - why the TR, and not the Byzantine text? Why do you believe the printed text known as the TR is the preserved NT, and not a printed Byzantine text? Each printed text (any TR, any BYZ, and eclectic [e.g. UBS-5, SBLGNT]) is the product of textual critical work. So, why do you prefer the TR, then?

That is the point, Bro. Ross. I'm running a short series at SI from Maurice Robinson, where he criticizes the eclectic text. I like what he says there. Why don't you?

Kent Brandenburg said...


You say WE are seizing on a point in Pickering. It really wasn't OUR point that WE are seizing on. Come on. Eclectic text people always, always, are saying that no two manuscripts are alike. They make that point again and again. Do you say to them? You are seizing on an irrelevant point when they do that. They say it all the time. So you provide an example of how they are wrong, but that's irrelevant. So it's always irrelevant, right? I agree that it's irrelevant. But it isn't our irrelevant point. It's theirs.

I mention that God preserved the text rather than a restored text, and Josh P at SI says that TC is not really restoring a lost text. Then you post two articles in a row with sections about restoring a text. Crickets from Josh P. It's easy to see what is happening. Easy.

Tyler Robbins said...


There really is no way for me to prove this to you, but my intention was to (1) post a few articles advocating a TR approach, (2) do likewise from a Byzantine perspective, then (3) do likewise from an eclectic perspective.

There is no sinister plan here. I provided two fair excerpts from your book, and pointed people to that book repeatedly throughout the interactions at SI. It was a fair representation of you. I even posted links to your two response pieces. I know you didn't get a friendly reaction at SI, but I don't think you expected one.

Now, we're on Maurice Robinson. The response is indeed friendlier. I think it's friendlier because they can get behind Robinson's basic approach - he admits there are differences between manuscripts, and we need to do something about it to restore the text.

The basic crux of the issue, for me, is why the TR and not the Byzantine? They're cousins; the TR IS Byzantine! It is not a dishonest question - it's a real question. I just don't understand why you grab hold of the 1598 Beza TR, and not the Byzantine. Why THAT printed text, instead of another?

I know your position often provokes ridicule and scorn. I don't have scorn for your position. I try to understand it and represent it fairly. Please don't be tempted to see a conspiracy at SI about why I posted Maurice Robinson's Byzantine approach. Dan Wallace and James White are coming next. I'm simply presenting all three perspectives.

I'd like some dialogue about why Scripture leads you to grab hold of the TR, instead of the Byzantine. Do you allow for the possibility your preference for the KJV is influencing your TR position?

Kent Brandenburg said...


What's really cool with the Maurice Robinson position is 1) he ridicules the TR and the idea of perfect preservation, 2) he doesn't start with scriptural presuppositions, 3) he still doesn't know what the Bible is, and 4) he bases what he does on "manuscript evidence," so very naturalistic and rationalistic. Those are all still very acceptable, which is why it's peaceful there at SI when he is excerpted, even if he is wrong.

Tyler Robbins said...


1. Why do you believe the 1598 Beza (a printed text) is the perfectly preserved word of God? Why not Scrivener's TR? Why not Robinson's Byzantine?

2. Why do Scriptural presuppositions lead you to believe the 1598 Beza is God's preserved Word, instead of a printed Byzantine text?

3. Why do you believe the 1598 Beza printed text is "the Bible?" Why not another printed text, like Hodges & Farstad's Byzantine? Why not Pickering's Majority Text?

4. The 1598 Beza is a printed text, based on manuscript evidence, too. Why do you grab hold of this printed text, and not a Byzantine printed text?

This conversation will continue to go nowhere until we come out of the clouds of theory, and talk about practical reality.

Andy Efting said...

I don’t believe that codex L is identical to 4Q2. It might be that the text that we can see from the fragments of 4Q2 corresponds to the text of codex L in those areas but surely codex L is not fragmented the same as 4Q2. For two manuscripts to be the same or identical then the words and characters on one manuscript must be the same as the words and characters on the other. If one manuscript is missing words that the other manuscript contains, then they are not identical.

The whole point of the “no two manuscripts are the same” mantra is that (1) errors with the text are an expected part of the copying process and (2) that means textual criticism must be done to correct the errors that exist in every manuscript.

The two examples that you show demonstrate an additional issue and that is that often the manuscripts are incomplete or fragmented, which again means we need additional witnesses to figure out the original text.

So, I say again, I have not seen any evidence that overthrows the idea that no two manuscripts are the same.

Kent Brandenburg said...

1. Why do you believe the 1598 Beza (a printed text) is the perfectly preserved word of God? Why not Scrivener's TR? Why not Robinson's Byzantine?

1. Why do you think? You've read the book. Is it that unclear? The reasoning is there. I will state and said it again and again here, but I would you to show me that you have listened. I don't mean that an offensive way.
2. This would be the same as #1.
3. Ditto.
4. Ditto.

Do you see scripture as theory?

Kent Brandenburg said...


You're moving the goalposts. I guess you disagree with Tyler about its irrelevance.

Emanuel Tov is emeritus Professor in the Department of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Harvard, Hebrew University of America). Thomas quoted Tov. Others agree with Tov on this point. They didn't disagree with him, but you do. The multiple award winning Tov was just reporting.

You didn't mention p52. What are we to assume about that?

Tyler Robbins said...


Very well. I'll just assume pgs. 202-205 are your basic answer for these questions. I was hoping for more detail, but I'll take what I can get.


Kent Brandenburg said...


Robinson doesn't believe in perfect preservation. Why? Why don't you? You've never actually ever, ever explained that.

I'll answer your question, but I was awaiting your answering your question, since I think you know why already. Are you saying you don't know? If not, then have I not been clear about this?

You never answered the theoritical question. Is what scripture teaches, theoretical? Do you test it by external circumstances to be sure what it's saying is true? I'd like you to answer this.

I'm on Long Island, NY, and I'm going to be leaving from JFK tomorrow early.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Tyler,

The Byzantine priority position is better than the eclectic text; the eclectic text is not inerrant and is 7% different from the preserved Word of God, while the Byz priority position only lands one c. 1% away. 1% is too much, but it is way better. The Byz priority text is also less heretical. I'm glad for all the improvement there. I am also happy when Byz people show the extreme problems with the Westcott-Hort critical theory. That is fantastic.

I also appreciate that Pickering, despite grave theological problems in areas such as the charismata, believes that God has preserved every Word of His somewhere, and he even thinks he can identify those words in family 35. While he overlooks the Biblical principle of recognition by true churches, he is better than a Dan Wallace who can say that the autograph in Romans 5:1 wrote "let us have peace" with God having been justified by faith, an error, since Paul audibly said "we have peace" but his scribe wrote the wrong reading down.

I disagree that the fact that some MSS are identical is insignificant. Were it so, CT advocates would not repeat ad nauseum that they are not. Identical MSS in different centuries from different parts of the world indicate a very careful copying process. The fact that the earliest copy we possess of John, a copy made in the 1st century A. D., is identical with the printed text of 1500+ years later is very significant. The fact that the textual stream in which the TR is found contains such identical MSS in significant numbers, while the tiny minority of CT MSS are widely divergent, is also very significant. The Byz/TR scribes copied their MSS like they thought what they were copying was the Word of God. Of course, none of that denies the fact that copyists could and did make slips of their pens.

KJB1611 said...

In the c. 1% where the Byzantine priority text differs from the TR, the TR is correct because God's providential guidance in the process of preservation did not stop with the invention of printing. It is not Biblical to think that the true churches received a corrupt printed text as canonical for hundreds of years, while the true text was not available in any vernacular language until the 1990s. Perhaps my essay here:

will help you on this subject.

I hope that when you quote James White you quote what he says about Scripture's own teaching on its preservation. I am afraid you will have nothing at all there, but if you can actually find somewhere that he does this, I would be very interested. From what I can see, he never, ever exegetes Scripture on its own preservation to get his position. He doesn't do it in his KJVO Controversy book. When he was specifically asked about why he believes the words are all floating out there somewhere in his debate with Bart Ehrman, White said he believed it because Kurt Aland talked about the tenacity of the text. Ehrman gave White a perfect opportunity to explain what Scripture teaches on its own preservation. Did White give any Scripture? No. He quoted the modernist Kurt Aland (who, by the way, does not take his position anyway).

I also think that "essentially Beza 1598" and "Scrivener" are the same thing. Scrivener is essentially Beza 1598, and in the Greek and Hebrew texts underlying the most printed vernacular Bible and the most printed book in the history of the world, ever, the Authorized Version, we have the correct and perfectly preserved Greek and Hebrew Biblical text, as recognized and received as canonical by true Baptist churches, with no other text even claiming to be perfectly preserved or providing certainty about Scripture.



If you want to keep your "no two MSS are identical" tag, then please make it clear that you mean "we have manuscripts that have exactly the same words for whole books (e. g., the MSS of Titus I put in) from different centuries in different parts of the world, indicating an extremely careful copying process for many centuries in the TR-type of MSS, unlike the incredible sloppiness of CT MSS. However, that isn't good enough for me, because some of these MSS with exactly the same words also include other books not present in both MSS. Furthermore, people like the possibly leading modernist scholar of OT textual criticism, Emmanuel Tov, say we have identical MSS, but I disagree, because I have my own definition of 'identical' that is different than Tov." That would be a very helpful explanation of what you mean if you wish to continue to repeat the "no MSS are identical" thing.


Andy Efting said...

I am surprised that you guys are willing to use terms like “identical” in such a loose and subjective manner. I looked into what Tov says and he makes the following qualification in footnote 19 on the page you reference in his book:

“It remains subjective to characterize a Qumran scroll as being close or identical to codex L; however, such a characterization is probably correct as long as the number of deviation from L is ’small,’ that is, less than 2% (thus Lange, Handbuch, 16).”

So, “identical” to Tov is less than 2% deviation. I guess I stand corrected regarding Tov but that’s not what I have in mind when I think of identical and I don’t understand why it works for you either. Under that type of definition, we could say that the KJV and ESV are identical, or that they are identical for certain books.

The reality is that 4QGenb consists of fragments from the book of Genesis. Codex L is the complete OT (if you want to scroll through it -- From what Tov says, we can’t be sure that the text from the 4QGenb fragments are word for word the same as in Codex L. But even if they were, how do you legitimately say the manuscripts are identical when Codex L contains thousands of additional words from the other 38 books and a complete Genesis?

When I teach through these things in church, I’m happy to add color to my statement that no two manuscripts are the same. I think it is interesting and helpful to cite examples of whole books that have been copied perfectly, or that portions of complete manuscripts have been verified by older and smaller fragmented copies of those passages. But the overall fact remains that God never promised that scribes wouldn’t make mistakes when they copied Holy Scripture and what we have today is a situation in which no two manuscripts are the same.

Kent Brandenburg said...


If you read TSKT, you'll know that we believe there are variations in manuscripts, so I don't really get the point. The authors since the printing press before the 18th century acknowledged it. We do too, but you guys talk about a difference in one manuscript from another is an insurmountable barrier for God with His promise. Actually, I don't hear your side even mention God's promises, or they have to modify it so much that it isn't what the text of scripture says. You are still focused in on Tov, and you didn't deal with Thomas's other example. Were you just conceding on that?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Andy,

Thanks for the comment. The footnote you cite is stating "very similar" is less than 2% of a difference, and if one looks at the text on the page and the footnote that is clearly what Tov means. Tov is not re-defining "identical" to mean "2% or less," but is defining "very close" in what he calls the "M-like texts" to 2% or less of a difference.

Were Tov making the very highly unusual definition of "identity" that I believe you accidentally attributed to him, that would indeed be subjective. However, he is not, and on the contrary the MS I gave above is, in every portion of it that exists, letter-for-letter identical to codex L, and you can verify that with the links to both the pics of both MSS. We can have whatever faith that we wish about whether there were differences in parts of the Qumran MS that don't exist, but in what does exist they are identical, meaning exactly the same letters, just like the word "identical" means "exactly the same" in the MSS of Titus--and Pickering has personally collated many MSS that are like these for many books of the NT--that indicate an extremely careful transmission so that MSS that are not genealogically related to each other in any close manner but are centuries apart in different parts of the world have had many generations of copying that leaves them exactly the same.


Andy Efting said...

I've read TSKT and I know that you believe there are variations in manuscripts. Go back and read the title of this post -- you guys are the one's saying it's a myth that no two manuscripts are the same. I'm simply dealing with that narrow issue because you guys raised it.

Thomas's other example is the same thing as the DSS Genesis fragment. I didn't think it merited additional comment.

Larry said...


You post a chart about differences between the TR and WH (though no one really uses WH anymore, do they?). Why do you presume that the WH is the change? Why isn't the TR the change?

KJB1611 said...


Please tell us what percent different are the Westcott-Hort 1st edition and the last edition of the UBS.

Larry said...

KJB1611, Why? I am not sure what the answer is right off the bat, and it is irrelevant to my question.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

I didn't write this post, and the point of it was to deal with the claim that no two manuscripts are alike, that is an incessant mantra of critical text proponents. I think that is irrelevant, but it is still used like a fortune cookie statement seemingly to prove something.

Thomas KJB1611 (who has his devotions in the original Hebrew and Greek, reads both) and believes preservation is in the original language, was dealing with the second question about the parenthesis, so it wasn't off topic, right? WH is saying critical text, because the differences are small and non-essential to someone who does not believe in a settled text. These are points that just seem diversionary to me.

In answer to your question, biblical presuppositions guide our position. We are talking about forensics here, and our apologetic is presuppositional. You have to depend on faith, because you don't know except by faith. You can use whatever means you want to get something less than what God promised, but that is not believing Him. WH or Nestles Aland (which sort of makes our point, further changing the Bible based upon manmade criteria, not faith) come along over 300 years later.

I got your point, Larry, you think the NA or WH is older, so better. It's maybe an older manuscript, like the paper and ink, but that doesn't mean the words are closer to the original. It is a flawed, corrupted basis. If you dismiss or don't even care about biblical presuppositions, or don't start with them, you will miss it on the Bible. If you don't think so, that's where we differ. You believe differently than us.