Grace Bible Church
Basic Training in Doctrine
April 15, 2008

The History of the NT Greek Canon.

Papyrus was mostly used for more ancient books. It survived in warm, dry climates such as the Middle East, but became frail after repeated use.


Parchment or vellum, which became more used in the 4th century, was made from the skins of cattle, sheep, goats, antelopes, and was much more durable than papyrus, but more expensive.


At the close of the first century A.D. the codex or leaf form of book, came into use in the Church. This is the form of book that we have today.

Majuscules or Uncials were all capitol letters without spaces or punctuation. This was beautifully done in very old manuscripts and eliminated errors due to handwriting styles.


Minuscule was a script type of writing using lower case letters.
Since the minuscule handwriting made books cheaper, they were more available to people with limited means.


Greek manuscripts fall into these two major groups (majuscule or minuscule), having subgroups of being written on either papyri or parchment. Either material was used interchangeably depending on cost.

In English for example it would read: GODISNOWHERE.

In the 4th century, when Rome received Christianity, scriptoria were established to produce copies of the NT. Therefore, just because a manuscript is older, that does not mean that it’s necessarily more accurate.


God chose to preserve the NT by the very number of man’s mistakes. In other words, the mistakes preserve the original text.

There are over 5700 manuscripts catalogued of parts of the NT alone. Each having small differences, then the number of variants becomes high, however, by comparison of them all, the variants become quite clear and a wonderful rendering of the original text is possible.

Wescott and Hort indicated that about one eighth of the variants had any weight, the rest being trivial.

Philip Schaff estimated that there were only 400 variants that affected the sense of the passage, and only 50 of these were important.

Dr. A.T. Robertson, the greatest of Greek scholars, indicated that of real concern regarding textual variants amounted to but “a thousandth part of the entire text.”

Four categories:
Majuscules …….310

Codex Sinaiticus

At the age of nineteen, young Count Koinstantin von Tischendorf amazed his professors with his fluent knowledge of the classical languages and his knowledge of history.

This is how Tischendorf dis­covered the 129 pages of what is today known as the Codex sinaiticus, or the Codex Aleph.

Codex Sinaiticus is still one of the finest and most accurate texts available to us today, and it became the basis of many revisions and corrections of earlier editions of the Bible.

Actually, Codex Vaticanus, also known as Codex B was known to be some fifteen years older than Codex Sinaiticus (Codex Aleph). Vaticanus dated back to 325 or 350 A.D., and had probably been brought from the East by Pope Nicholas in 1448.

In 1809, when Napoleon exiled the Pope, it took about fifty wagons to transport the Pope’s library.

Tregelles, another great scholar and friend of Tischendorf’s, decided to investigate the Codex Vaticanus in the Vatican library.

A third very interesting manuscript, which very few people knew about, is the Codex Alexandrinus.
This Greek language manuscript had been written about 450 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt.

In 1621, when Cyril Lucar became the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, he transferred the manuscript to

The beautiful document, Codex Alexandrinus, was presented at court in 1627, just fifteen years after the King James Version of the Bible had been completed.

The first thing that was printed was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate as it was the most popular Bible translation at the time, although by then Bibles had been printed in several languages of Europe.

No Greek NT had been “printed” until 1514 and was called the Complutensian Polygot. It was a magnificent edition of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin texts. 600 were printed, of which 97 are preserved today.

However, the first Greek NT to be published (put on the market) was an edition prepared by the famous Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus in 1516.

Erasmus could not find a Greek manuscript that contained the entire NT. He used about a half dozen different, incomplete copies of the Greek NT. For most of the text he relied on two rather inferior manuscripts from a monastic library at Basle, one of the Gospels and one of Acts and the Epistles, both dating from the 12th century.

Said of this first edition, owing to the haste in production, the volume contains hundreds of typographical errors. Said of this first edition: “It is in that respect the most faulty book I know.” (Scrivener)

Erasmus made a second edition which became the basis for Luther’s German translation. Corrections were made but the text was still only based on a half-dozen Greek manuscripts.

Further editions were made for a total of five editions in all by 1535. The text of Erasmus’ Greek NT rests upon a half-dozen miniscule Greek manuscripts. The oldest and best of these (codex 1, a miniscule of the 10th century) he used the least because he was afraid of its supposedly erratic text.

It is Erasmus’ text (Textus Receptus: Received Text) that is the basis of the 1611 King James Version. This is not to say that the KJV is a terrible translation, but it is flawed as any other translation and it is not as good as RSV, NIV, or NASB etc.

ROM 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. KJV

ROM 8:4
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. KJV

After Erasmus thousands of manuscripts of the Greek NT have been discovered as well as other ancient Greek texts that have aided in our understanding of the Koine Greek.

In fact the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek NT was published separately from the United Bible Societies’ Greek NT. Without communicating and by using different critical methods the two editions are identical.

5735 Greek manuscripts discovered and criticized over hundreds of years have reproduced God’s original Word to the writers of Scripture within 99.999% accuracy.

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