Textual Witnesses of Revelation

Textual Witnesses of Revelation

Each of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament was at first a separate literary unit. In every instance the original copy (called the autograph) of the books of the bible is lost.

The New Testament rests on multitude of manuscript evidence. A manuscript is a hand written literary composition, in contrast to a printed copy. There are no known extant original manuscripts of the New Testament, called autographs, However, the abundance of manuscript copies make it possible to reconstruct the original with complete accuracy. New Testament manuscripts are include Greek Witnesses, Papyrus, Uncials, Minuscules, Ancient Lectionaries, Ancient Versions, Quotations from the Church Fathers, Ostraca, and Talismans.

Counting Greek copies alone, the New Testament test is preserved in some 5,366 partial and complete manuscript portions that were copied by hand from the second through the fifteenth centuries. The circulation of a document began either from the place of its origin, where the author wrote it, or from the place to which it was addressed. In the earlier ages of the Church, Biblical manuscripts were produced by individual Christians who wished to provide for themselves or for local congregations copies of one or more or books of the New Testament. When a book was shared by repeated coping throughout a whole diocese or metropolitan area, the close ties between dioceses would carry it from one district to another, where the process would be repeated.

Until the invention of printing with movable type in the fifteenth century the text of the New Testament and, indeed, the text of every ancient record could be transmitted only by laboriously copy it letter by letter and word by word. The consideration, therefore, of the processes involved in the making and transcribing of manuscripts is importance to the historian of ancient culture in general to the student of the New Testament in particular.

The function and purpose of textual criticism is to reconstruct the original wording of the Biblical text, and to establish the history of the transmission of the test through the centuries.

In the Graeco-Roman world literary works were customarily published in the format of a scroll, made of papyrus or parchment. The papyrus roll or scroll was made by gluing together, side by side, separate sheets of papyrus and then widen the long strip around a stick, thus producing a volume (Latin volumen,” something rolled up’). The normal Greek literary roll seldom exceeded 35 feet in length.

On the roll, the writing was arranged in series of columns, each about 2 or 3 inches wide. Sometimes, the roll was written on both sides; this was called an (opisthograph.)
Early in the second century (perhaps even at the close of the first century) the codex, or leaf-form of book, began to come into extensive use in the Church. Folding one or more sheets of papyrus in the middle and sewing them together made a codex.

New Testament manuscripts written in formal printed style somewhat to capital letters are known as uncials (or majuscules). This kind flourished from the third to the seventh centuries A.D. Gradually, during the next two centuries, the style degenerated until a reform in handwriting was initiated, consisting of a smaller letters in a running hand called “minuscules.” They are dated from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries.

Greek manuscripts are the most important and can be subdivided into four classes: papyri, uncials, minuscules, and lectionaries. The papyrus manuscripts and over two hundred lectionaries were written in uncial letters. The second and third classes are differentiated by the style of handwriting, because both were written on vellum or parchment. At present there are 88- catalogued papyri manuscripts, an additional 274 uncial manuscripts in codex format, and 245 lectionaries in uncial script In addition, 2,795 manuscripts and 1,964 lectionaries in minuscule script have been catalogued.

Lectionaries include manuscripts which were not Scripture themselves but contain Scripture quotations, used for the scheduled worship services of the annual church calendar.

All parts of the New Testament were originally written in Greek, although Aramaic Christian texts may have circulated in the period before the Gospels. Greek was the world language of the time, spoken and understood in the West and East. In 180 A.D., the church in the West, Syriac- and Coptic-speaking areas required manuscripts in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic.

The earliest writings to be collected were probably the letters of Paul. Acts and Revelation first circulated as independent writings, as well as the Catholic letters. There is evidence that in the Eastern churches at this time the book of Revelation was widely rejection.

The principles of textual criticism consider both the external and internal criteria of a given text. Each manuscript is theoretically related to all the others. Therefore, it is possible to treat manuscripts genealogically, as sub-families of one large family. Sub-families are called text-types or simply “families.” Text-type are divided into the geographical area of their origin: Alexandrian (Egyptian Text, principal witness Codex Vaticanus B), Western (Caesarean text-type identified with Codex Koridethi and two families of minuscules), Byzantine (Koine Text or Textus Receptus, major witness are codices A, C, W and most minuscules).

An assessment has been given to many of the uncials based on their text type. Five categories are used: Category I represents manuscripts of a very special quality which should always be considered in establishing the original text. Category II manuscripts are of a special quality with the presence of alien influences but important for establishing the original text. Category III manuscripts have a distinctive character with an independent text, and are important for establishing the text and the history of the text. Manuscripts of Category IV and V are of the D text and predominantly Byzantine text, respectively.

The textual history of Revelation differs greatly from the rest of the New Testament due to its canonicity contested. Therefore must be assessed based on different criteria and manuscripts. All extant papyri and surviving uncials are cited, because so few exist. It was not well received by the early church. It was challenge by Marcion because of strong ties to Jewish scripture. However, the book was in use in Asia and West in the 2nd century. Andreas, archbishop of Caesarea, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin knew and commented on Revelation. It complete acceptance throughout the church was slow. It was the last book accepted into the NT canon.

Revelation is recovered by 5 papyri (4 fragmentary, 2 are early), 7 uncials (3 fragmentary), and 118 minuscules (1 fragmentary).

The earliest witness is papyrus (p) 47 followed by Codex Sinaiticus (∏ 01). Codex Alexandrinus (A 02) and Codex Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus (C 04) are usually considered as uncials of secondary value, but here are superior to p47 and ∏. The Majority text (Koine Text) is divided into MA (manuscripts which follow the text of Andrea of Caesarea’s commentary on the Apocalypse; with P (046) ) and MK (mss of a strictly Koine type, with 046). The poor state of preservation of 2344 makes it difficult and frequently impossible to decipher. 2377 cannot always be cited.

Primasius (6th century A.D.), Bishop of Hadrumetum, North Africa, is chiefly remembered for his commentary on Revelation, in which he drew extensively on Tyconius and Augustine, written before 543-44. His textual commentary is important because it preserves almost completely the African Latin text of the Apocalypse.

The Papyri

p18 (!) Rev. 1:4-7; third/fourth. London: British Library, Inv. No. 2053v. Grenfell-Hunt, VIII (1911): 13-14 (P. Oxy. 1079); Schofield, 182-85. (Normal text, Category I)
p24 Rev. 5:5-8; 6:5-8; fourth. Newton Centre: Andover Newton Theological School, Franklin Trask Library, O.P. 1230. Grenfell-Hunt, X (1914):18-19 (P. Oxy. 1230); Schofield, 203-205. (Category I)

p43 Rev. 2:12-13; 15:8-16:2; sixth/seventh. London: British Library, Inv. No. 2241. Walter Ewing Crum and Harold Idris Bell, Wadi Sarga: Coptic and Greek Texts (Copenhagen: 1922), 43-45; Schofield, 292-95. (Category II)

p47(!) Rev. 9:10-17:2; third. Dublin: P. Chester Beatty III. Fredric G. Kenyon, Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri III/1. Pauline Epistles and Revelation, Text (London: 1934); III/2: Revelation, Plates (London: 1936). (Normal text, Category I) Plate 23

p85 Rev. 9:19-10:2, 5-9; fourth/fifth. Strasbourg: Bibliotheque Nationale et Universitaire, P. Gr. 1028. J. Schwartz, “Papyrus et tradition manuscrite,” ZPE 3 (1968:157-58. (Category II)

The Uncials

∏ (01) Codex Sinaiticus, eapr, 21 fourth century, 148 ff, 4 cols., 48 ll., 43×38 cm. London: British Library, Add. 43725. Complete Bible (parts of the Old Testament lost, 11ff. Of the Pentateuch and lf. of the Shepherd of Hermas discovered in 1975 in St. Catherine’s Monastery), with the letter of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas, the only four-column manuscript of the New Testament. The romance of its discovery was recounted by Constantin von Tischendorf himself (43 Old Testament folios first discovered in 1844, followed in 1853 by an abortive attempt and in 1859 by successful access to the rest of the manuscript, which was eventually “presented” to the Tsar by a complicated arrangement); bought from the Soviet government by England in 1933 for l100,000. Facsimile edition by Kirsopp Lake (Oxford: 1911). The text with numerous singular readings (and careless errors) was highly overrated by Tischendorf, and is distinctly inferior to B, together with which (and p75) it represents the Alexandrian text. (Category I)

A 02 Codex Alexandrinus, eapr, fifth, 144 ff., 2 cols., 49+ ll., 32×26 cm. London: British Library, Royal 1 D.VIII. This manuscript, which was in the Patriarchal Library of Alexandria from the eleventh century, was presented by the Patriarch Cyril Lucar of Constantinople to Charles I of England in 1628. A complete Bible lacking folios. The text is of uneven value, inferior in the Gospels, good in the rest of the New Testament, but best in Revelation, where with C it is superior to p47 a. (Category: Gospels III — strictly V, elsewhere I)

C 04 Codex Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus (so called because the manuscript was erased in the 12th century to be reused for a Greek translation of 38 tractates by Ephraem), the best known of the New Testament palimpsests, eapr, fifth, 145 ff., 1 col., 40+ ll., 33×27 cm. Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale, Gr. 9. Originally a complete Bible, today C has considerable lacunae. (Category II)

P (025) Codex Porphyrianus, apr, ninth, 327 ff., 1 col., 24 ll., 16×13 cm. Leningrad: Public Library, Gr. 225. Palimpsest: upper text is the minuscule 1834 (Euthalius), dated 1301. (Category V in Acts and Revelation, elsewhere III)

046 r, tenth, 20 ff., 1 col., 35 ll., 27.5×19 cm. Rome: Vatican Library, Gr. 2066. (Category V)

051 Rev. 11-22, tenth, 92 ff., 1 col., 22 ll., 23×18 cm. Athos: Pantokratoros 44. Commentary manuscript. (Category III)

052 Rev. 7:16-8:12, tenth, 44 ff., 2 cols., 27 ll., 29.5×23 cm, Athos: Panteleimonos 99, 2. Commentary manuscript. (Byzantine text, Category V)

0163 Rev. 16:17-20, fifth, 1 col., ca. 17 ll., 12×8.5 cm. Chicago: University of Chicago, Oriental Institute, 9351 (P. Oxy. 848). (Category III)

0169 Rev. 3:19-4:3, fourth, 1 f., 1 col., 14 ll., 9.3×7.7 cm. Princeton: Theological Seminary, Speer Library, Pap. 5 (P. Oxy. 1080). (Category III)

0207 Rev. 9:2-15, fourth, 1 f., 2 cols., 29 ll., 19×15 cm. Florence: Biblioteca Laurenziana, PSI 1166. (Category III)

0229 Rev. 18:16-17, 19:4-6, eighth, 2 ff., 1 col., (16 ll.), (11×23 cm.). Formerly Florence: Biblioteca Laurenziana, PSI 1296b. Palimpsest: lower text Coptic. (Category III)

1006 er, eleventh, pch. Athos: Iviron, (56) 728. (Category V, but II in Revelation)

1611 apr, twelfth, pch. Athens: National Library, 94. (Category III, but II in Revelation)

1841 apr, ninth/tenth, pch. Lesbos: Limonos, 55. (Category II in Revelation, V elsewhere)

1854 apr, eleventh, pch. Athos: Iviron, (25) 231. (Category V, but II in Revelation)2030 r, twelfth, pch. Moscow: University, 2. (Category III)

2050 r, 1107, phc. Escorial: X,III, 6. (Category II)

2053 rK, thirteenth, pch. Rome: Vatican Library, Gr. 1426. (Category I: textual value comparable to A 02 and C 04 in Revelation)

2329 r, tenth, pch. Meteroa: Metamorphosis, 573, ff. 245v-290. (Category III)

2344 apr, eleventh, pch. Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale, Cioslin Gr. 18. (Category I in Catholic letters, III elsewhere, but I in Revelation where of textual value comparable to

A 02 and C 04)

2351 rK, tenth, pch. Meteora: Metamorphosis, 573, ff. 210-245r. (Category III)

2377 r, fourteenth, pa. Athens: Byzantine Museum, 117. (Category III)


Aland, Kurt and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Crisitism. Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Willaim B. Eerdmans, 1989.

Comfort, Philip W., Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990.

Vaganay, Léon and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, An Introduction to the New Testament Textual Criticism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Metzger, Bruce M., The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Metzger, Bruce M., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. United Bible Societies, 1971.