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The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition

ISBN: 9781441253019

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The Text of the New Testament is a brief introduction for the layperson to the New Testament’s origins. It describes the basics of ancient writing tools, manuscripts, the work of scribes, and how to think about differences in what the various manuscripts say. Geared to the layperson uninformed or confused about textual criticism, Greenlee’s book explains the production of ancient manuscripts and traces the New Testament’s textual development. Readers are introduced to the basic principles of textual criticism, the concept of variant readings, and how to determine which variant has the greatest likelihood of being the original reading. To illustrate the basic principles, several sample New Testament texts are examined. The book concludes by putting textual criticism in perspective as involving only a minute portion of the entire New Testament text—the bulk of which is indisputably attested by the manuscripts.

The Logos Bible Software edition of this volume is designed to encourage and stimulate your study and understanding of Scripture. Biblical passages link directly to your English translations and original-language texts, and important theological concepts link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. In addition, you can perform powerful searches by topic and find what other authors, scholars, and theologians have to say about the Word of God.

Resource Experts
  • Traces the history of the copying and transmission of the New Testament through history
  • Introduces basic principles of textual criticism
  • Provides an introduction to ancient manuscripts and their usefulness today
  • What Ancient Books Looked Like
  • How Ancient Manuscripts Were Written
  • The Ancient Records of the Greek New Testament
  • The New Testament through the Centuries
  • The New Testament Meets the Printing Press
  • More Manuscripts, and What They Revealed
  • Determining the Correct Reading
  • Looking at Some New Testament Variants
  • The New Testament Text and Modern Translations
  • What Shall We Say to These Things?

Top Highlights

“Initially, textual scholars identified four principle groups of mss, or text-types: the Alexandrian, the Byzantine (for Byzantium, another name for Constantinople), the Western (for Rome), and the Caesarean (for the city of Caesarea in Palestine).” (Page 41)

“Although papyrus mss of the New Testament are written in uncial letters, the term ‘uncial manuscript’ is used to designate only parchment mss written in uncial letters.” (Page 24)

“The first and most basic principle of textual criticism is this: The reading from which the other readings could most easily have developed is most likely the original.” (Page 59)

“However, what is at stake is not the number of differences, but their nature.” (Page 38)

“The earliest mss actually known to exist today are papyrus mss in codex form. To date well over a hundred of these mss have been discovered.” (Page 22)

Greenlee takes the reader on an illustrated journey from the pens of the apostles to the printing press and beyond. It’s as rare as it is refreshing to read such a sane book that rises above the cluttered traffic and confusing signals on the information highway.

Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

In all of his writings, Harold Greenlee’s overriding concern is to show that New Testament textual criticism, far from being a secondary or indifferent matter, is a matter of supreme importance. Once the student has started reading Greenlee, he or she will find that this soft-spoken man has relevance to one of the most crucial areas of biblical studies today. Certainly this revision of Greenlee’s classic textbook will be a welcome addition to any pastor or student’s library. I thank God that he has given his church such a warm-hearted and capable scholar.

David Alan Black, professor of New Testament, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

This is one of the clearest expositions of the science of textual criticism one is likely to find. . . . this small volume traces the history of writing, book-making, the various types of materials (papyrus, parchment, paper) and their implications for biblical manuscripts, the work of the scribes and copyists, the art of textual criticism, and the work of translation. Written for a lay audience, it combines sound scholarship with an explanatory style that makes it ideal as a resource for introductory courses on the New Testament or as informative reading for anyone interested in this important aspect of the biblical literature.

The Bible Today

The name of J. H. Greenlee is well known in connection with New Testament textual criticism. . . . An obvious advantage of this book is that it is aimed at the general reader, not the trained New Testament scholar. It starts with a discussion of how ancient manuscripts were written, using good diagrams to explain how papyrus manuscripts were made and the difference between scrolls and codices. . . . The Greek manuscripts are discussed with explanations of their characteristics and how the numeration system for them has developed and operates. The history of New Testament criticism is set out in helpful summary form, along with a very clear discussion of general principles upon which textual decisions are made. The various modern translations (NRSV, NLT, NET, ESV, REB, NKJV) are surveyed in regard to their textual base, with good summaries, of their acknowledged textual preferences. . . . The obvious advantage of Greenlee’s discussion is that he explains New Testament textual criticism without assuming knowledge of Greek. Anyone can pick up this discussion and find intricate questions relating to textual criticism discussed with simplicity and clarity.

Reformed Theological Review

This book is written by a scholar in plain language, it sets out the history of the manuscript evidence that lies behind the New Testament. 10 chapters introduce important issues. . . . Frequently, this most important aspect of the New Testament is ignored. However, to rightly interpret the New Testament every student should be familiar with the insights presented by Greenlee. . . . Greenlee has taken a very complex issue and presented it in clear straightforward terms. His balanced judgment is evident throughout. This text is excellent for an introduction to the subject, it is scholarly based, soundly balanced, and challenging. Worthwhile, it is an introductory window into a very important subject.

Theological Book Review

[Greenlee] communicates with admirable clarity and includes details and insights that are likely to be of benefit to New Testament scholars.

Journal for the Study of the New Testament

This book certainly whets the appetite of those at the very beginning of developing an interest in New Testament textual criticism. . . . successfully engages readers with a compelling mix of ancient scribal practices and the texts they produced, by charting the history of the transmission of the Greek New Testament and various translations, and by discussing ‘live’ issues especially in evangelical circles relating to claims about inerrancy of scripture and the superiority of the King James Version. This range of topics amply illustrates the ‘payoff’ that can be gained through a close study of the ancient manuscripts. . . . Greenlee says much that is sane and enlightening in this brief introduction to textual criticism. He is sensitive to the reality that for some readers the issues he discusses will appear controversial. . . . The reality is that [the book’s] clear presentation of the facts still sadly needs to be heard in some circles. Greenlee speaks those facts with a still small voice of calm which will hopefully bring greater clarity to some of the claims that are being made in support of certain English versions of the bible.

Expository Times

A helpful primer for the uninitiated reader. . . . The presentation will help readers appreciate the New Testament text with greater depth and nuance. And ultimately, the idol of false certainty will be challenged as readers are called to appreciate the robust history and tradition of the New Testament text.

Ashland Theological Journal

  • Title: The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition
  • Author: J. Harold Greenlee
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Pages: 144

J. Harold Greenlee holds a Ph.D. in Biblical and Patristic Greek from Harvard, and has worked as a teacher and Greek exegetical consultant for many years with both OMS International and SIL International. He has written numerous books and articles, including five volumes in the Exegetical Summary Series.


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  1. Jeff Shrum

    Jeff Shrum


    Just added this work to my reading list.
  2. Ezra Thang

    Ezra Thang




Print list price: $18.00
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