The New Testament manuscripts


There are about 5306 manuscripts that contain the greek NT or parts of it and can be distinguished in:

Unciali: this term denoting the manuscripts written in capital letters (unciali); such letters were often very accurate. Manuscripts of this type were made of parchment, which was made from the skin of animals cleaned of hair and meat e, below, treated with lime and pumice stone. The parchment was used widely from the fifth century. in the 12th century. D.C.. when it was supplanted by paper. Codes in uncial of the NT amount to approx 274.

Italics: are the manuscripts in which lowercase letters are used; this was a more popular form of writing.

Tiny : in this way manuscripts are indicated in which a smaller than normal form of italics is used, which took hold around the ninth century. D.C.. The codes of these last two categories of the NT amount to approx 2.795.

Papers: in this way we indicate those manuscripts that used as a support for writing not parchment but papyrus. This material was produced from particular plants whose stem was cut into strips, which were glued to each other and then moistened and pressed to form sheets of the desired length. Generally these sheets were glued together to form a roll. Christians got into the habit of uniting them for the center, creating what will be known as “code”. They have been cataloged approx 88 papyri with passages from the NT.

Biblical manuscript numbering

There have been several attempts to classify biblical manuscripts. The first dates back to Johann Jacob Wettstein (1693-1754), who, knowing about 200 manuscripts, he already divided them into capitalized codes, lowercase, lectionaries. He designated the codes in capital letters with capital letters (the same ones we still use today), in alphabetical order:

  • A = Alexandrian Code
  • B = Vatican Code
  • C = Code of Ephrem rewritten
  • D = Code of Beza Cantabrigiensis

The lowercase codes are indicated by him with Arabic numerals, as well as the lectionaries. In this way, however, different manuscripts are designated by the same letter of the alphabet. Wettstein's successors followed this system. A particular case is that of von Tischendorf, that, having discovered the Sinaitic Code, he wanted to give it a particular position in the system of alphabetic abbreviations (in accordance with the importance he attributed to it) and he indicated it with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet , “aleph”.

Soon the letters of the Latin alphabet were no longer enough to designate all the capitalized codes found, so we moved on to the letters of the Greek alphabet, then to the Hebrew ones and finally to differentiate with exponents both the Greek and the Hebrew letters.

Only in 1908 a new classification was elaborated by Caspar René Gregory (1846-1917), American by birth, German election (died during the First World War, fighting as a volunteer on the side of the Germans; he had enlisted at sixty-eight).

Gregory compiled a new list of acronyms that is still used today. According to this system, the classification is as follows:

  • The papyri are designated with the initials P followed by an exponent number.
  • Capitalized codes with a zero prefixed to a number, but also keeping the alphabetic letters of Wettstein and his successors up to 045 ( = 01, A = 02, etc.) .
  • Lowercase codes with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.).
  • Lectionaries with Arabic numerals preceded by the letter l ( l 1, l 2, etc.).
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