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Hebrew and Greek Texts of the Bible

Lesson #16

Victor M. Eskew




A.    The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek.

1.      The autographs, that is, the originals, do not exist.

2.      What we have today are manuscripts (copies) of those original books.


B.      The manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are used in order to form a complete Hebrew and Greek text.

1.      Over the years many Hebrew texts have been developed.

2.      The same is true of the New Testament.

3.      NOTE:  What the translators of various versions translate depends upon the text they use.


C.     In this lesson, we will look briefly at some of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible.


I.                   HEBREW TEXTS


A.    The text of the Old Testament is referred to in several ways.

1.      The Hebrew Bible

2.      The Tanakh:  an acronym  for the three division of the Hebrew Old Testament

3.      The Mikra:  a word that means “that which is written.”


B.      Between the 7th and 10th centuries, a Hebrew text was composed by a group of Jews knows as the Masoretes. 

1.      This text is referred to as the Masoretic Text.

2.      This is the authoritative text of the Tanakh for the Rabbinic Jews.


C.     Two manuscripts are responsible for most of the Hebrew texts that exist today.

1.      Leningrad Codex

a.      This is the oldest complete manuscript of the Old Testament in the Hebrew language.

b.      It is named for the place where it is housed:  Leningrad, Russia (St. Petersburg).

c.       It is dated at 1008 A.D.

d.      It is responsible for several Hebrew texts.

1)      Biblica Hebraica (1937)

2)      Biblica Hbreaica Suttengartenisa (1977)

3)      The Dotan Edition

4)      The JPS – Hebrew-English Tanakh (1999)

2.      Aleppo Text

a.      This is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible.

b.      This codex was based upon the Masoretic Text of the Jews.

c.       It was written in Tiberius.

d.      It dates to the 10th century.

e.       This codex was endorsed by Maimonides, an influential Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages.

f.        It was housed in Aleppo, Syria.  Thus, the reason for its name.

g.      Presently, it is displayed in the Israel Museum.

h.      Several texts have been developed from this codex.

1)      Mossad Harav Kook edition

2)      Mordechai Breuer edition

3)      Jerusalem Crown:  The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2000

4)      Jerusalem Simanim Institutute, Feldheim Publishers, 2004


II.                GREEK TEXTS


A.    The first published edition of the Greek New Testament was issued in 1516 by a Dutch humanist monk named Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536).

1.      It was a hurried edition due to the publisher’s demands.

2.      It used on late manuscript evidence.

3.      This text has been called the Received Text and The Textus Receptus.


B.      Johann Griesbach (1745-1812)

1.      Johann Griesbach had access to the Vatican Codex.

2.      He published several Greek texts.

3.      He noted what are called “variant readings” from the various manuscripts and presented notes on which variant he thought was best.

4.      He used the margins to cast warnings and approval concerning the variant readings.


C.     Karl Lackmann (1793-1851)

1.      Karl Lachmann issued 3 Greet texts.

2.      His texts used a small number of early manuscripts.

3.      His rules of critical evaluation adhered to the ascent of Rationalism, taking a non-inspirational approach to Textual Criticism.  Thus, his works have not been well received.


D.    Brooke Wescott (1825-1901) and Fenton Hort (1828-1892)

1.      Each of these men disdained the Received Text of Erasmus.

2.      They were both on the revision committee in 1870 to initiate the first true revision of the Authorized Version (KJV).  This would begin by revising the Greek text.

3.      The Revised Version came out with the New Testament (1881) and the Old Testament (1884). 

4.      They completely broke with the Textus Receptus.


E.      John Burgon (1813-1888)

1.      He published no Greek text.

2.      He was a strong opponent of Wescott-Hort.


F.      Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913) and Erwin Nestle (1883-1972)

1.      Attempted to harmonize all Greek texts into one critical edition.

2.      They sided with Wescott/Hort in the idea that the oldest manuscripts were always the best.

3.      Erwin worked to produce a scholarly text.

4.      Erwin teamed with Kurt Aland and produced Nestle-Aland Novem Testamentum Graece (1979).


G.     Kurt Aland (1915-1994)

1.      Kurt Aland was known as an authority on textual manuscripts.

2.      He founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research.

a.      He attempted to register and catalogue every known New Testament manuscript.

b.      All variants were noted.

c.       He included patristic (Church Fathers) evidence

d.      He digitized the information

e.       He developed a criteria for Textual Criticism


Kurt & Barbara Aland Criteria For Textual Criticism

1.      Only one reading can be original, however many variant readings there may be.

2.      Only the reading which best satisfies the requirements of both external and internal criteria can be original.

3.      Criticism of the text must always begin from the evidence of the manuscript tradition and only afterward turn to a consideration of internal criteria.

4.      Internal criteria (the context of the passage, its style and vocabulary, the theological environment of the author, etc.) can never be the sole basis for a critical decision, especially when they stand in opposition to the external evidence.

5.      The primary authority for a critical textual decision lies with the Greek manuscript tradition, with the Versions and Fathers serving no more than a supplementary and corroborative function, particularly in passages where their underlying Greek text cannot be reconstructed with absolute certainty.

6.      Furthermore, manuscripts should be weighed, not counted, and the peculiar traits of each manuscript should be duly considered. However important the early papyri, or a particular uncial, or a minuscule may be, there is no single manuscript or group or manuscripts that can be followed mechanically, even though certain combinations of witnesses may deserve a greater degree of confidence than others. Rather, decisions in textual criticism must be worked out afresh, passage by passage (the local principle).

7.      The principle that the original reading may be found in any single manuscript or version when it stands alone or nearly alone is only a theoretical possibility. Any form of eclecticism which accepts this principle will hardly succeed in establishing the original text of the New Testament; it will only confirm the view of the text which it presupposes.

8.      The reconstruction of a stemma of readings for each variant (the genealogical principle) is an extremely important device, because the reading which can most easily explain the derivation of the other forms is itself most likely the original.

9.      Variants must never be treated in isolation, but always considered in the context of the tradition. Otherwise there is too great a danger of reconstructing a “test tube text” which never existed at any time or place.

10.  There is truth in the maxim: lectio difficilior lectio potior (“the more difficult reading is the more probable reading”). But this principle must not be taken too mechanically, with the most difficult reading (lectio difficilima) adopted as original simply because of its degree of difficulty.

11.  The venerable maxim lectio brevior lectio potior (“the shorter reading is the more probable reading”) is certainly right in many instances. But here again the principle cannot be applied mechanically.

12.  A constantly maintained familiarity with New Testament manuscripts themselves is the best training for textual criticism. In textual criticism the pure theoretician has often done more harm than good.     (http://www.cob-net.org/compare_greektext.htm)

H.    Bruce Metzger (1914-2007)

1.      One of six on the Executive Committee for the International Greek New Testament Project (1948).

2.      He was the driving force behind several United Bible Societies Greek texts. 

3.      He wrote A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament to explain verse-by-verse the reasons for the textual decisions of the Committee’s 2000 variants.




A.    Prior to the publication of the Greek texts that could be put into the hands of the masses, translations were used.


B.      The two primary translations were The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate (a Latin transition of the Bible).

1.      The Latin Vulgate was done in the late 4th century.

2.      The primary translator was Jerome, a priest who lived from 347 to 420.

3.      This was the official Bible of the Catholic Church.