500th Anniversary of the Book that Changed the World

A new journal, Unio cum Christo, just published my article, “Erasmus and the Book That Changed the World Five Hundred Years Ago” (Unio cum Christo 2.2 [Oct 2016] 29–48). Erasmus published the first Greek New Testament on March 1, 1516. This article honors him and discusses the impact that his Novum Instrumentum Omne (a book that is almost completely unknown except by biblical scholars) has had on western civilization and the world.

Washington, D.C.: ‘Topping Out’ the Museum of the Bible

In August 2016, I received an invitation to go to the “Topping Out” event at the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) in Washington, D.C. I have known about the MOTB for a long time—even before D.C. was the place finally chosen for its location. But I had no idea what a ‘topping out’ event was.

The MOTB will be the world’s largest privately-owned Bible museum. Sponsored primarily by the Green family of Hobby Lobby fame, it is intended to be a place where people of all faiths—and those of no faith at all—can engage with the Bible. The goal is to be non-sectarian but intentionally educational. The Bible has had far greater impact on human history than any other book ever written. Yet Biblical illiteracy is escalating at an astonishing pace and is even approaching the illiteracy levels before the King James Bible was published four hundred years ago. This museum in this location is strategic for the nations of the world.

I was of course very pleased to receive the invitation to this event; and because it was an all-expense-paid trip (thank you, Steve Green!) I was able to accept.

Three sites were originally considered for the museum: New York, Dallas, and Washington. As much as I would have loved to see it in Dallas, I knew that D.C. was a far more strategic location—even more strategic than NYC. The MOTB is just a few blocks from the US Capitol, and from its top floor one can see the Capitol dome as well as the Washington Monument.

The Greens have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ancient and medieval treasures. The collection now boasts more than 40,000 artifacts that are relevant to the biblical world.

On September 13, 2016 (the 14th anniversary of the founding of CSNTM [www.csntm.org], by the way), over one hundred guests were bussed to the MOTB from the Washington Hilton (the same hotel where President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley 35 years ago). Along with the 500 construction workers at the site, we ate lunch on the top floor and listened to presentations by several notables, including former mayor of Washington, Tony Williams. And I learned that ‘topping out’ meant the installation of the last steel beam in a building. That beam arrived from Germany and was installed just hours before our lunch.

The structure is in place; now to finish the task. The MOTB is scheduled to open in late November, 2017. In our tour of the building we learned that it weighs in at 430,000 square feet, is eight stories tall (two below ground), and is oozing with technological wizardry. Carey Summers, president of the MOTB, announced at lunch that it will be the most technologically-advanced museum in the world. This is not your father’s museum. Stodgy is definitely not an adjective to describe it!

I must admit, however, that I was a little concerned that the museum might have a cheesy feel to it, kind of like a Christian Disneyland. I’ve seen too many Christian museums that are of this sort. But the impression I got from the speakers, the tour, and the videos on each floor showing how the museum will finish out obliterated that concern. Yes, this museum will be technologically advanced, and yes, it will be accessible and interesting to people of all ages. But it will not be boring or cheesy. It’s a fine balance to achieve; the MOTB is on track to do it.

As you enter the museum, you will be greeted by two massive brass (?) doors—one weighing 8 tons, the other, 12 tons—both with biblical text on them. Inside, the vaulted ceiling will light up by replicating the Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as a number of other famous paintings, murals, and scenes. The ceiling will morph through these displays of art via tens of thousands of LED lights.

As you ascend the stairs (or take the lift), you will see large exhibits from other museums—including the Vatican and the Israel Antiquity Authority (the latter has never had an exhibit of their artifacts outside of Israel). One floor will show the history of translation, with an impressive wall that lists all the regions/languages of the world that have the full Bible, parts of the Bible, or none of the Bible in their own language. It will be an instant visual display of the past accomplishments and remaining tasks of Bible translators. Another will be a library for studying ancient documents. A stunning, 400-seat theater will be used for a variety of events. Another floor will be a display room, showing visitors how manuscripts are photographed, and how artifacts are preserved. There will even be sections addressing the Bible’s impact on justice, on world history, and on the founding principles of the United States.

The cost of the museum (including various projects related to it throughout the world), will be an astounding one billion dollars! The Green family has put in half of this money; the rest is coming from other donors. Most of those who came to the topping out event were potential major donors. But those of us who are not in that league can still make a contribution: a ‘million name’ wall will list all donors who contribute any amount. It will be a powerful visual reminder that the Bible is a book of great import. Here’s the link: https://www.museumofthebible.org/onemillionnames. I plan on making a donation for each member of my family—including grandchildren. (Please don’t tell them; it’s a Christmas present!). There’s plenty of room for you to join and display to the world that you, too, honor the Bible and recognize its role in world history.

Here’s the link to the MOTB website: https://www.museumofthebible.org. Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1pE-GIV0Fo to see a “360º” look at the MOTB (film produced by CV Global). And here’s the “Extended Fly-Through” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yu-c6RJW9E.



Fact Checking Dan Barker: From our Recent Debate June 6, 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Justin W. Bass regarding his recent debate with well-known atheist, Dan Barker. The debate topic was “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?”

“I discovered that there is no evidence for Christianity” –Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith, 69).

Dan Barker wrote these words in 1992 in his first book Losing Faith in Faith recounting his de-conversion from a fundamentalist Christian pastor to a promoter of atheism and free-thought.

Dan first came out publicly as an atheist on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1984. Since that time he has been a preacher of atheism and free-thought as a kind of “reverse penance” (Losing Faith, 10), he says, for all the years he proclaimed the gospel.

At 15, he accepted a calling from God to live and preach for Jesus Christ. He was a self-admitted fundamentalist from the beginning believing “every word in the Bible is God-inspired and inerrant” (Losing Faith, 28). He was also taught that liberal and atheist writers were “evil servants of Satan attempting to distract believers from the literal truth of the Bible” (Losing Faith, 29-30). He describes a fundamentalist (himself at the time) this way: “A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the Bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing.” (Losing Faith, 176-77).

Dan ended up attending Azusa Pacific College majoring in Religion. He describes Azusa Bible College as a “glorified Sunday school” (Losing Faith, 22). In the one apologetics class he took, he admits, “I don’t remember that we delved very deeply into the evidences or arguments for or against Christianity” (Losing Faith, 22).

Although Dan states it was the lack of evidence that convinced him Christianity isn’t true, it seems, from his own admission, that he was not exposed to Christianity’s hard “evidences or arguments” before he turned to atheism.

Dan and I debated the topic: “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?” on June 6th of 2015 sponsored by The Bible and Beer Consortium. After that 3+ hour debate, reading all of Dan’s books, and watching at least 40 of his other debates, I have come to the conclusion that Dan is still rejecting the same “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity that he rejected over 30 years ago.

I am grateful to know Dan; I’ve found him to be kind, brilliant, and an experienced articulate speaker. I appreciate his willingness to come to Dallas to debate. We had a great time at dinner together the night before the debate. We asked our waitress who she guessed was the atheist and who was the Christian. She thought Dan was the Christian and I was the atheist!

While I like Dan as a person, for over 30 years he has been fighting against a fundamentalist caricature of Christianity and misrepresenting many of the facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and one of the primary purposes of this article is to correct many of those misrepresentations.

Dan’s “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity is highlighted throughout his arguments in Losing Faith in Faith (1992), Godless (2008) and his most recent book Life Driven Purpose (2015). Just for a moment, let’s consider the sources he cites in these books.

In his discussions of Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only two scholars who are credentialed and professionally teaching in the field of early Christianity: R. J. Hoffman and Bart Ehrman. In contrast to these two sources, Dan questions Jesus’ existence. He parts ways again with Bart Ehrman, arguing that the Jesus story was cut from the same cloth of pagan religions. Continue reading “Fact Checking Dan Barker: From our Recent Debate June 6, 2015”

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.