The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts – Two-Volumes

The manuscripts that form the Greek New Testament are scattered throughout the world and are usually only accessible to scholars and professionals. These were the manuscripts read by the earliest Christians, which comprised their “New Testament.” In his volumes, Philip Wesley Comfort bridges the gap between these extant copies and today’s critical text by providing accurate transcriptions of the earliest New Testament manuscripts, with photographs on the facing pages so readers can see the works for themselves. Comfort also provides an introduction to each manuscript that summarizes the content, date, current location, provenance, and other essential information, including the latest findings. This allows students and scholars to make well-informed decisions about the translation and interpretation of the New Testament.

Volume 1 includes manuscripts from Papyrus 1-72. Volume 2 includes manuscripts from Papyrus 75-139 as well as from the uncials. In addition, it features a special section on determining the date of a manuscript. This two-volume set replaces the previously published single volume Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, as it contains many new manuscripts, updated research, and higher quality images of all manuscripts previously covered.

A review copy of the set has arrived courtesy the good folk at Kregel (without any expectations for that review’s outcome).

These two volumes make the most important manuscripts immediately available to interested scholars.  Textual criticism is the foundation upon which all biblical studies must be constructed and these books aid that task immensely.  First, because the manuscripts are collected under one roof and second because the text is so sharply presented.

The first volume contains an important and extensive introductory section in which the authors introduce readers to their methodology, their procedure for dating manuscripts, their handwriting analysis, textual character, and finally, a bibliography for further study.  Then manuscript by manuscript they discuss

  • Contents
  • Date
  • Provenance
  • Housing location
  • Bibliography
  • Physical features
  • Textual character

Then follows an exact transcription of each particular ancient manuscript.

Not all of the aforementioned aspects occur with each text, but all those known do.  And in the case of groups of manuscripts (texts which belong together), the group is discussed more fully and extensively.

There are sporadically placed photos (black and white and of medium quality) throughout the two volumes with volume two containing a longer collection of photos at the end of the volume.

When manuscripts have blank spaces, those are indicated and when there are abbreviations in the manuscripts themselves, they too are indicated in the transcription.

These two books are indispensable for New Testament scholars, whether they be text critics or not.  Because the earliest texts are indisputably essential for any reconstruction of the biblical text and thus for the biblical message.

Scholars interested in more high resolution, color photos, can easily find them thanks to the internet and the availability online of early New Testament manuscripts.  But finding all of those manuscripts, and examining them, is extremely time consuming.  Here Comfort and Barrett have done all of the leg work for you.  If you wish to look more closely, you can.  But beginning here will be the sensible thing to do.

These two volumes are commended to your attention and, in my view, should be on your shelves.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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