23. The origin of Text Types.
23. The origin of Text Types.
The word Bible is derived from the Greek word biblia meaning books. It is common knowledge that the Bible is a bundle or library of books. To most of us this is a well known and secluded set of books forming one unit referred to as the Word of God, or the Scriptures. Yet we forget that there had been a certain development in the compilation of these books. In the beginning each document had a “life” of its own. Later some documents were grouped together forming the volume of the Pauline letters, or those of James through Jude known as the Catholic letters. Initially single copies of the original documents were made. The separate gospels, Acts (a), the volume of Pauline letters (p), usually including the letter to the Hebrews, the volume of the Catholic letters (c) and Revelation (r) each had a considerable period of individual copy history.
Due to scribal errors and alterations, copies developed unique characteristics whereby a specific copy could be identified as belonging to a certain group with a common ancestor or geographical origin. After the invention of the codex, all the gospels were often collected in one volume (e). Even at the beginning of the life of the Gospels as a volume, the different gospels often exposed their individual character of origin. From there onwards this bundle could again develop its own peculiarities. In some bundles the gospels are in the order as we know it, but some are in the so-called Western order, putting the disciples first, then the companions of disciples; Matthew, John, Luke and Mark. If a certain copy of Mark ended at chapter 16:8, and this corresponds with a quite a number of other manuscripts, it can be concluded that they all share a common ancestor or copy history. The same is true when the story of the woman caught in adultery is completely missing from the gospel of John, or placed after John 7:44, or John 21:24, or even after Luke 21:38, or Luke 24:53. These indications identify a specific group of texts showing great congruity in many other readings. This is called a text type. The different text types are named after the area or city it presumably originated.
In the late 1880’s and even after 1970 large amounts of fragments of papyri as well as tombstones were discovered. Many of these date from the first and second centuries, almost the time of the origin of the New Testament. Some of them contain only a word or a phrase from the N.T., being used for instance as a blessing in an amulet. Their value lies in the fact that we can know that that specific phrase had been known to exist in that form during that period.
Today we can compare the wording of the different text types with the oldest papyrus documents, fragments or other evidence. This helps us to determine the greatest possibility of the authentic words of the original autographs. Linguistic experts have compiled a set of universally accepted guidelines and criteria by which to evaluate a text. As an example I mention just one. A scribe would rather alter a sentence to make it more fluent and easier understood, than complicate it. Therefore a reading that superfluously seen is more obscure or difficult, has a greater possibility to render the original, especially when it proves to be correct when it is studied more intensely. We will look at some of these rules in greater detail further on. These guidelines have not only been tested on the New Testament, but hold true in all cases of antique texts, and are universally accepted and applied. This assists the delicate art of evaluating every variation.
It is also important to bear in mind that the number of manuscripts within a certain text type is not an important consideration. When the Greek Church duplicated many copies for their Churches, most of them were descendants of a common ancestor. This resulted in numerous copies depicting the same peculiarities and words. On the other hand, if most of the oldest copies available agree with a certain reading, and it is supported by ancient translations over a large area as well as agreement within quotations of Church Fathers, that reading should be more important than just a numerical counting of manuscripts of a alter date, all originating from the same source ancestor.
The texts of the New Testament are grouped in the following text types: Alexandrian text type, the Western text type, the Caesarian text type and the Byzantine text type.
We will look at the peculiarities of each later.