Bible 347 Return to Syllabus

How to Start
A Text Critical Study of A Passage

  1. First the places and types of variations together with the manuscripts supporting each must be discovered.
    1. Consult various translations and look for footnotes which say something like "Other authorities read ...."
    2. Consult the New King James Version. Variations are marked with M for Majority Text (Byzantine tradition) and NU for Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies Text.
    3. Check the book A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Variants on-line at
    4. Check commentaries on your passage, especially critical commentaries like the International Critical Commentary, the Expositor's Greek New Testament, and Henry Alford's commentary (the multi-volume set on the Greek is best).
    5. Check Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (some Greek may be required to use this, but often not).
    6. Check the UBS Greek New Testament footnotes. You need to use a Greek lexicon or Greek-English interlinear if you do not know Greek or are just starting in Greek.
    7. Check the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece footnotes. The symbols you need to know are:
      1. A little circle means the word is omitted in some manuscripts. A little square and later a backslash means that all the words between them are omitted in some manuscripts.
      2. A little T symbol means that some manuscripts add the words here found in the footnotes.
      3. An upper left corner symbol means that some manuscripts have a different word. Upper left and right corner symbols mean that some manuscripts have different words than the ones between the symbols.
      4. Squiggle marks mean that words are found in a different order in some manuscripts.
      5. In the footnotes the variant readings will be listed after the same symbols as found in the text; then the witnesses supporting that reading are given. The evidence supporting the text is found after the word txt; if no text evidence is given, it is all other witnesses.
    8. If none of this helps or if you have trouble with the last two steps, ask your teacher for help.
  2. Evaluate the external evidence (the witnesses). Also evaluate the internal evidence to decide which reading best explains the rise of the others. If the internal and external evidence conflict, give more credence to the internal evidence.
  3. Write at least a page on what you have found, giving the variant readings, the witnesses supporting each grouped by age and families, and the likelihood that copyists may have changed one reading to another.

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