TWO TEXT-TYPE FAMILIES: WHICH ONE REPRESENTS THE AUTHENTIC NEW TESTAMENT?
By S. Doug Woodward, Author, Speaker, and Researcher
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Over the past two millennia, two families of texts have been at odds, with supporters asserting their preference constitutes the genuine New Testament text. The laity is hardly aware of this debate, let alone easily able to appreciate it. Nonetheless, for those scholars (and sometimes those who think they are), there exists a genuine dispute about which lineage of the two text-types should be declared the winner, containing the most accurate readings of the true New Testament text. In this article, at a high level, I will walk the reader through the essence of the debate.
The New Testament canon (which books would be included in the Bible) wasn’t decided until AD 367 when the Church Father Athanasius sent his ‘Easter Epistle’ identifying the 27 books that were (already) acknowledged throughout the Church as the genuine testimony ‘once delivered to the Saints.’ Citing Jude 1:3, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (King James Version)
Aside from the issue of inspiration and the timing of Apostolic blessing to the New Testament readings (the letter of Jude asserting it already existed in some form even in the first century), looking back from roughly the seventeenth century, church leaders have strained to determine the most authentic text. Scholars were aware that there were at least two (almost fully) complete Greek Bibles (the Alexandrian and Vaticanus codices) that included the acknowledged books of the New Testament with few exceptions (later, a third codex, the Codex Sinaiticus, would be discovered which would include an exceedingly rare copy of the Shepherd of Hermas). All of these codices were scribed in the fourth and fifth centuries (Sinaiticus likely was scribed as early as the late third century). The Old Testament in all of these codices was based on the Alexandrian Septuagint to the satisfaction of all the active churches (even Coptic and Syriac believers based their Bibles, at least partly on the original LXX). However, the New Testament’s canonized texts were not officially settled until Athanasius’ pronouncement in 367.