Update from Athens: New Apostolos Manuscript

8 June 2015: There are eight of us from CSNTM in Athens right now. We’ve begun the process of digitizing New Testament manuscripts at the National Library of Greece this summer. CSNTM has a contract with the NLG to digitize all their NT manuscripts—over 300 manuscripts altogether! The director of the NLG, Dr. Philippos Tsimpoglou, is a visionary with energy, drive, innovation, and desire to bring the NLG into much greater prominence in the international discussions about ancient texts. CSNTM is very grateful to Dr. Tsimpoglou for this key partnership in digitally preserving and making accessible 150,000 pages of biblical manuscripts.

I have spent more time in Athens than in America this year, preparing manuscripts for the photographing teams. In the process of documenting each manuscript, I have come across some exciting discoveries—many of which were already known to the library, but not all. The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, Germany is the official cataloguer of Greek NT MSS. And until INTF has catalogued a manuscript, it is generally not known to New Testament scholars. To date, we have found at least ten manuscripts that are not yet catalogued by INTF. In this blog, I want to discuss an apostolos (Acts and Catholic Epistles) manuscript that is glued to the inside front and back covers of a lectionary.

NLG 2676—known to biblical scholars as Lectionary 1813—is a 12th century Gospel lectionary, written on beautiful vellum, with 240 leaves still extant. It has ornate headpieces for each of the Gospels, produced by a true craftsman. Glued to the inside of the front cover is a manuscript leaf of a decidedly different character. Written in a professional but rather utilitarian hand is a two-column paper leaf. A leaf from the same manuscript is glued to the back inside cover.


Front Inside Cover of NLG 2676

(picture taken with iPhone)


1 John 3, 5

This paper manuscript is written in a later hand, 13th or perhaps 14th century. On the front inside cover three columns are visible. There is a vertical crease after the first column, which is our first clue that what is extant is a bifolio (or double leaf). The left column begins with 1 John 2.29 and ends at 1 John 3.3a.


The text is as follows:

] ην εξ αυτου γεγε-            [2.29]

] ιδετε ποταπην α-             [3.1]

]δωκεν ημιν ο π̅η̅ρ̅,

θ̅υ̅ κληθωμεν.

] . ο κοσμος ου γινω-

] αγαπητοι. νυν τε               [3.2]

] . . μεν. και ουπω

]ρωθη τι εσομεθα

]μεν δε οτι εαν φανε-

] ομοιοι αυτω εσομε-

] οτι οψομεθα αυτον,

]… και πας ο εχων                 [3.3]

]πιδα ταυτη επ


The next two columns are from the same page; the text is 1 John 5.11b–15 in the first column and 1 John 5.18b–21 in the second. The left column of this page gives us the full lines so that we have firm evidence of how much text would be written on each line (they average 19.5 letters). The gap between 1 John 3.3 and 1 John 5.11 tells us that the bifolio is not the middle double-leaf of the quire, but is the bifolio prior to the midpoint. This is due to the fact that (1) there are approximately 30–31 lines per column (only 17 of which are extant), (2) there are approximately 600 letters per column, with two columns per page (and four per leaf), and (3) 1 John 3.3b–5.11a would involve approximately 250 lines or 8 columns. Thus, the gap would involve two columns per page, four per leaf, eight per bifolio. Therefore, this is the bifolio just before the midpoint of the quire.


The text of 1 John 5.11b–15 in this fragment is as follows:

η, εν                                                 [5.11]

ο εχων τον υιον …. τη ζω-           [5.12]

ην. ο μη εχων τον υιον του

θ̅υ̅, την ζωην ουκ εχει. ταυ-   [5.13]

τα εγραψα υμιν τοις πι-

στευουσιν εις το ονομα του

υιου του θ̅υ̅. ινα ειδητε ο-

τι ζωη αιωνιον εχετε. και ι-

να πιστευσητε, εις το ονο-

μα του υιου του θ̅υ̅. και αυ-      [5.14]

τη εστιν η παρρησια ην ε-

χομεν προς αυτον. οτι εαν

τι αιτωμεθα κατα το θελημα

αυτου, ακουει ημων, ο εαν           [5.15]

αιτωμεθα, οιδαμεν οτι ε-

χομεν τα αιτηματα α

ητοικαμεν ……


Although this MS follows the Byzantine text, it has a rare variant of the aorist subjunctive πιστευσητε (049 218 945 1751 2374) instead of the present subjunctive πιστευητε in v. 13. It also has what may be a unique variant in v. 15, ητοικαμεν instead of ητηκαμεν. In the era in which this manuscript was written, the pronunciation of οι and η would have been identical. But the spelling alteration is most likely due to the scribe’s faulty memory as he repeated to himself the word he saw in his exemplar before writing it down.

Acts 3

The paper glued to the inside of the back cover is also a two-column bifolio, with the first two columns on the left side, followed by a vertical reinforcement strip, with text (which would have been used to strengthen the joint between the two leaves), then one column on the right. This bifolio is in worse condition, with the residue of ink from another leaf, along with the intrusive reinforcement strip, covering a large section of the text. Further, the original script has been written on top of in certain places, making the task of positive identification a bit tricky at times.



Back Inside Cover of NLG 2676

(picture taken with iPhone)

The text begins at Acts 3.1; χω]λος εκ κοιλιας (Acts 3.2) is visible on the what appears to be the third or fourth line in the far left column. This goes through Acts 3.5a (ο δε επειχεν αυ–). The second column picks up at v. 8 (the second line reads αλλομενος και αινων) and continues through v. 10. After this, it gets confusing. The next line appears to begin with a rubricated and enlarged epsilon. That would normally indicate a new section of material, whether it be the next paragraph in Acts, a new lection (if this is a lectionary), or perhaps the beginning of a commentary section. The word looks like εξομολογ…, so we should expect it to say something about confession. The string of letters doesn’t seem to match anything in the NT, nor is it the beginning of a lection. Further, the letters look as though they are written on top of others—yet there’s a mismatch between the under-text and upper-text. The whole thing is a puzzle. I invite any readers who may have access to better tools than I do while away from my library to offer their solutions to this conundrum. It’s probably an easy solution that is simply escaping me at the moment.

There are 57 known apostolos minuscules from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries that have both 1 John and Acts in them. Tentatively, this manuscript is the 58th, but we will most likely need to resolve what comes after Acts 3.10 on the backside to make that a definite assertion. Nevertheless, it’s always a thrill to find another manuscript of the New Testament. It is not uncommon to see manuscripts carved up and used as binding leaves in other codices. Obviously, it is unfortunate that a manuscript would be cannibalized, but many such manuscripts have been partially preserved by gluing them to wood-and-leather covers. Without such treatment, they might not have been preserved at all!


For Further Reading

The following tools are helpful for those who are fascinated by Greek New Testament manuscripts but are not sure how even to begin studying them—either online or in the flesh. This is a very basic bibliography (we didn’t want to overwhelm you right from the beginning). This is not a bibliography for New Testament textual criticism per se; rather, it is intended to be a primer on examining the manuscripts.

Aland, Kurt, et al., eds. Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, 2nd ed. Volume 1 of the Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung (ANTF). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994.

Since 1963, the K-Liste has been the standard tool for comprehensive knowledge about Greek New Testament manuscripts. It lists every extant manuscript with content, date, dimensions, columns, material, leaves, and location. It also has a convenient section of conversions between Tischendorf’s and Gregory’s systems, and Gregory’s and von Soden’s. In the back of the book is a list of all the sites that have Greek NT manuscripts, listed by city and library, along with the shelf number. For those who wish to see actual manuscripts, this is the indispensable bible on Bibles. It has been and continues to be updated as an online version, which has many useful search features.

Cavallo, Guglielmo, and Herwig Maehler. Greek Bookhands of the Early Byzantine Period: AD 300–800. London: Institute of Classical Studies, 1987.

The standard resource on the professional scribal writing of manuscripts in the early Byzantine period.

Cavallo, Guglielmo, and Herwig Maehler. Hellenistic Bookhands. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.

The standard resource on the professional scribal writing of papyrus manuscripts in the Hellenistic period.

Elliott, J. K. A Bibliography of Greek New Testament Manuscripts, 3rd ed. Leiden: Brill, 2015.

This is the standard first-stop for a comprehensive treatment of what has been written on the various Greek NT manuscripts known to exist. Written by a meticulous scholar, who leaves no stone unturned, Professor Elliott’s Bibliography is must reading for going deeper with each manuscript. Perhaps what is most surprising in the volume is how many manuscripts don’t even have a paragraph written on them yet—about 80%! But if there’s a publication, dissertation, or obscure journal article about a given manuscript, Elliott includes it. That so many have nothing on them indicates that there is much, much more work to be done.

Gardthausen, V. Griechische Palaeographie, 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1913.

Another classic that has stood the test of time.

Hatch, W. H. P. The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

Another classical text that set the standard for dating Greek majuscule manuscripts of the New Testament.

Lake, Kirsopp and Silva. Dated Greek Minuscule Manuscripts to the Year 1200. 10 volumes(!). Boston: 1934–1939; Index (Boston, 1945).

For getting the scripts of dated manuscripts up to the beginning of the thirteenth century, there is nothing that compares to Lake and Lake’s 10-volume set. It’s also extremely difficult to come by. If you can find it, let me know—I’ll buy it!

Metzger, Bruce M. Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography. Oxford: OUP, 1981.

This is the best primer on getting into Greek biblical manuscripts (both New Testament and Old Testament). It’s a classic text, with several plates and characteristically Metzgerian detailed discussions. Help is also found in dating manuscripts and collating them.

Parker, David C. An Introduction to New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts. Cambridge: CUP, 2008.

A breathtaking array of secondary literature and primary insights on NT manuscript study from Great Britain’s leading active NT textual critic.

Roberts, C. H., and T. C. Skeat. The Birth of the Codex. Oxford, 1983.

The standard introduction to when and why the codex book-form came into existence and later become the standard book-form in late antiquity and the middle ages.

Thompson, E. M. An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography. Oxford, 1912.

A standard introduction which, though dated, still has much useful material.

Turner, E. G. The Typology of the Early Codex. Philadelphia, 1977.

Eric Turner was one of the great scholars of paleography, papyrology, and codicology. His opinion is always sober and never to be treated lightly.

Turner, E. G. Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

The long-time standard against which all other works on ancient book-making have been measured.

van Groningen, B. Short Manual of Greek Palaeography, 4th ed. Leipzig, 1967.

And a third classic that is quite useful for dating manuscripts.

These ought to be enough to get any bibliophile started down a path of rich discovery and illumination.

Several other important volumes could have been listed as well. These are intended for those whose interests are not just in the texts of the biblical manuscripts but in all aspects of those manuscripts.

CSNTM is going to Athens!

Huge news, friends! CSNTM just signed a contract with the National Library of Greece in Athens to shoot all their New Testament manuscripts. You can see the press release at http://www.csntm.org. This will involve shooting about 300 manuscripts (150,000 pages!) in 2015 and 2016. If you’d like to partner with CSNTM in preserving these ancient Christian scriptures, you can go here to make a donation.

Lexical Fallacies by Linguists

Ever since James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Language, originally published in 1961, introduced students of the Bible to the fascinating field of linguistics, the world of biblical studies has not been the same. Barr took his cues from linguists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, whose 1916 work Cours de linguistique générale (translated as Course in General Linguistics), marked a milestone in lexical studies.

Some of the lexical fallacies pointed out by these scholars, and numerous others after them, include the following:

  • Root fallacy: assigning the (supposed) original meaning of a word to its usages throughout history;
  • Diachronic priority: like the etymological or root fallacy, this looks at usage throughout the history of a word as though all such uses are still in vogue at any given slice of history (synchronic view);
  • Illegitimate totality transfer: assumes that all the uses that occur at a given time apply in any given instance;
  • Lexical-conceptual equation: the belief that a concept is captured in a single word or word group or the subconscious transference of a word to the concept and vice versa (like ἁμαρτάνω and sin).

All of these fallacies are well documented in the literature prior to 1961 (and even after!), and they are indeed linguistic fallacies that must be avoided. I have essentially applied this linguistic approach to syntax in my Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1996).

There are other ‘fallacies’ which themselves are fallacious, however. Below are enumerated three of these:

  • a word has no meaning apart from context;
  • diachronics are not helpful; instead one must focus entirely on synchronics;
  • etymology is always worthless.

I will briefly examine these three fallacies of linguists in this blog post.

A Word Has No Meaning Apart from Context

Often linguist say that the word being examined should have the meaning of ‘X’ with ‘X’ being only what one can determine from the context. But this is an unreasonable demand on any word. If every word in a given utterance had the meaning ‘X’ then we simply could not figure out what any utterance ever meant. Consider the following sentence:

Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow.

If the only word we did not understand was ‘lamb’ then with a little help from the broader context we might be able to determine that it meant a four-legged domesticated ruminant mammal whose woolly coat is used for clothing. But what if we did not know the meaning of all the words in this utterance? Unfortunately, when lexical studies are done, armed with modern linguistics, they often assume the meaning of all but the target term. But where did the meanings of the other words come from? If we were to carry the linguistic notion that a word has no meaning apart from its context to its logical conclusion, then the above sentence would initially be rendered:

X X X X X X X X X X X.

Like Egyptian hieroglyphics that were not decipherable until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, we would never be able to figure out the meaning of the sentence. It is not only the immediate context that tells us what a word means, and this leads us to the discussion of the second fallacy.

Diachronics Are Not Helpful

Frequently, linguists assume that diachronics are not helpful in determining a word’s meaning. The analogy that Saussure used was a chess game: Someone who observes a chess match, coming in sometime after the beginning of the match, can simply by observation determine who is winning the game. He or she does not need to know any of what has occurred prior to this point. This is synchronic (current time) priority to the exclusion of diachronics (over time).

There are inherent fallacies with this analogy, however. In this case, each one of the chess pieces always has its own defined functions and abilities. This never changes, yet it presupposes diachronics. Further, the chess game is not really the best analogy. A better one would be an American football game (or some other contact sport that involves teams). Suppose you came to the stadium at the beginning of the third quarter of the 1974 USC-Notre Dame football game. The score at the time was 24–7, with Notre Dame in the lead. You might say that Notre Dame was well on its way to winning the game, and you might even put money on it. I saw the game, but didn’t bet on it—though I should have since I have always been a USC fan! The second half USC team seemed to be different guys wearing the same numbers: USC went on to win 55–24, with Notre Dame being completely shut out in the second half. One would have to know about momentum (USC scored their first touchdown just before the half), and even what the coaches said to the players at halftime. In the least, just knowing the score would not be a helpful predictor of the outcome.

Expanding on this analogy, suppose you saw a game in which the teams were tied with 5 minutes to go. Knowing who had the momentum (which could only be known by diachronics); what injuries may have sidelined some key players—and when they happened; which team had the ball—and just as important, how they acquired it; which plays have worked; and which men are playmakers are all important factors in determining the outcome. Just as professional gamblers do not simply look at the W–L column but also examine injuries, home field advantage, weather, one-on-one matchups, and numerous other factors, diachronics is a key element in determining outcome. Although the current situation (synchronics) is the most important factor, the past also helps one to get a clearer picture.

It has often been said by linguists that since the speaker or writer whose words they are trying to understand may be blissfully unaware of the diachronic usage of his words, so linguists need to focus on this author’s/speaker’s usage rather than the past. I agree that we must employ the principle of synchronic priority; but we should not embrace the notion of synchronic exclusivity. Why? Because said author/speaker is presumably comfortable with his own language, having been exposed hundreds and thousands of times to most of the various words he will use in any given utterance. Diachronics are needed by the modern investigator, not the ancient speaker. Precisely because the modern researcher does not have the same linguistic background as the person whose usage is being examined he or she must ‘get up to speed’ on what a word can mean by employing diachronics. Consider for example the word-group κοινός/κοινωνία/κοινόω/κοινωνέω, etc. In the New Testament, when this word-group is used of human beings’ relationship to God, it is often put in a positive light because of the cross. We have fellowship (κοινωνία) with God because Jesus has made this possible. But in the Septuagint, this word-group frequently, if not usually, has a decidedly negative tinge. Has the word changed its meaning? No, it still has the idea of (sharing something in) common. What has changed is mankind’s relationship to God through the blood of his Son. But someone just looking at the synchronic meaning of the word-group in the New Testament may miss this background and thus an important clue to the richness of its usage in the New Testament.

Etymology Is Always Worthless

Certainly for words that have a long history, etymology is hardly needed to determine meaning. The fact is, words change in their meaning over time. Root fallacy ignores this fact. But what about words that are of recent vintage, perhaps even coined by the author one is studying? Consider, for example, θεόπνευστος, a word appearing only in 2 Timothy 3.16 in the Greek Bible. Although Paul did not invent the term, it was recently coined (apparently occurring for the first time in the Hellenistic period). As such, its history is short by the time we get to Paul. Breaking it down into its constituent elements (one form of etymologizing), we see that the word may mean “God breathed” or “inspired by God.” Did it have this force in 2 Timothy 3.16? Almost surely it did. In instances where a word is of recent coinage, and especially when it is used for the first time by the author in question, etymology is a must. No author would coin a word whose meaning had no resemblance to its parts. Words that have been in circulation for a long time, especially common words, however, require primarily a synchronic analysis with supplement from diachronics.

Although modern linguistics has made significant and abiding contributions to biblical studies, not all linguistic principles are of equal value. And some may even be fallacies themselves.

Pastor Osteen and Christian Narcissism: Symptom of a Larger Problem

Posted on August 27, 2014 on Youtube was an upbeat little clip from Pastor Osteen in Houston. But not the pastor you are probably thinking of. No, this is not Joel Osteen but his wife and co-pastor, Victoria.

She said with a big smile on her face and with husband Joel standing next to her in nodding approval:

“When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God. I mean, that’s one way to look at it. We’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning. So I want you to know this morning, just do good—for your own self. Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy.

When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really! You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy—Amen? [calling to the crowd for a positive response]”

Lakewood Church has a congregation of 45,000, making it the largest church in America. It is broadly evangelical in doctrine. Largely preaching a prosperity gospel—a favorite of some charismatic groups—they have grown the church fivefold since Joel took over from his father as pastor. The Osteens have been criticized for a number of things, not the least of which is being soft on sin and twisting the gospel.

Now, some of the most blatant narcissistic blather ever to come from a pulpit can also be laid at their feet. Not only narcissistic, but also blasphemous. One has to wonder how a megachurch in the buckle of the Bible belt can go on and on without the congregants waking up and smelling what’s being shoveled in their direction. If Lakewood Church is any indication of the biblical literacy, genuine devotion to Christ, and fellowship of the saints of the American evangelical church, we are in serious trouble. I know good people—rock-solid believers—in Houston. In fact, I would say that the biblical literacy in Texas is perhaps higher than any other state in the Union. But perhaps I am running in circles that are under the radar. I pray that that is not the case.

At the same time, I would have to say that in my travels throughout North America, speaking in churches everywhere, biblical illiteracy seems to be virtually at an all-time high. And a desire to please God at all costs is a pipe dream—so few Christians even think in such categories! The evangelical church in America needs corporate self-reflection and corporate repentance. How we treat one another, how we honor God, what our understanding of and commitment to the gospel is, and how we measure true success all need a serious overhaul. The root problem seems to be twofold: the marginalization of the word of God and the ‘buddyization’ of Jesus Christ. The scriptures have become irrelevant and the Lord of glory is now immanent but not transcendent in our hearts.

What can we do to fix the problem? A number of things: get into the Word, especially Romans and the Psalms; exalt Jesus Christ in our own hearts and lives and in the midst of others; get outside our comfort zones of common ethnicity, political correctness, and extreme narcissism; get outside our comfort zone of hiding our sins and learn to confess to one another and the Lord; learn about the magnificence of our God; and live to please him.

Some suggested reading:

  1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
  2. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God
  3. D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
  4. J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  5. Jared C. Wilson, Romans: A 12-Week Study
  6. Bruce Waltke and James M. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship