Transmission of the Bible

Editor’s note: This chart shows how the original books of the Bible were translated and passed down through the years until they became the modern English translations that we use today.  Different versions are based upon different ancient texts which explains some of their variations in translation.

Explanatory Comments on the Transmission of the Bible Chart

  • Autographs, the originals written by the writers of the Bible, are not in existence.
  • Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia dates before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran in 1947. Many manuscripts of the OT Masoretic Text were discovered in the 19th Century.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls contain every OT book except Esther. In addition, a manuscript of the Septuagint was among the Scrolls. These scrolls date from 300-150 B.C. and are the oldest manuscripts in existence.
  • Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus are the oldest and best existing Greek New Testaments and they were discovered in modern times.
  • Textus Receptus Greek NT is a product of 11th century from the Western family of Greek manuscripts and the Latin Vulgate. The KJV is based on TR, known as the Majority Text, having the most extant manuscripts. In modern times, Greek manuscripts and fragments dating from 2nd century to the 11th have been discovered, but the KJV remains uncorrected.
  • Tischendorf Greek NT is an update of the Textus Receptus correcting many variants in the text.
  • Westcott-Hort Greek NT is based on Codex Alexandrinus.
  • Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece of the NT Text is based on manuscripts in the far left column.
  • United Bible Society Greek Text is an eclectic text (words chosen in accord with established rules of textual criticism). The NIV is based on the UBS Greek Text as well as all known sources.

Textual criticism (called lower criticism) is the study of many variants in the text of the Bible and the effort to recover the original text.

Sometimes problems in the text arise around the question of word division. For instance,
GODISNOWHERE can be interpreted, “God is now here,” or “God is nowhere.” So in 1 Timothy 3:16
we have the Greek letters omologoumenwv, which can be rendered as the single Greek word,
“confessedly” (KJV) or omologoumen wv, “we confess that (RSV) great indeed is the mystery of
godliness.” In such cases, scholars have to make a judgment as to which rendering is more likely.

We possess an almost overwhelming number of manuscripts of the NT. In addition to the 75 papyri, we
have 250 uncial manuscripts, produced between the fourth and ninth centuries and more than 2600
minuscule manuscripts produced between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. In addition to these Greek
manuscripts, we possess the NT in other ancient languages, such as Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic,
Gothic and Armenian.

The first Greek NT to be printed (1516) was the work of Erasmus, who made use of several manuscripts
for various parts of the NT; but he relied heavily upon two twelfth-century manuscripts, which we now
recognize as quite inferior. Lacking a complete copy of the book of Revelation, Erasmus translated the
last six verses back into Greek from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus introduced material, which he found in
the Latin Vulgate but not in the Greek manuscripts. For instance, in Acts 9:6, he interpolated into his
Greek text Paul’s question, “An he trembling and astonished, said Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
These words, which are found in the Latin, appear in no Greek manuscripts known to us; they are easily
explained as a harmonizing addition drawn from Acts 22:10 and 26:14.

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