The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: N

Previous Index Next

NT manuscripts

The oldest NT mss were written on papyrus (from which "paper" derives); it was made by taking strips from the papyrus plant, which still grows near the Nile and in northern Galilee. These strips were laid side by side vertically. Then horizontal lines of strips were laid across them, and the two layers were glued together. Writing was done primarily on the horizontal strips, though sometimes the back of the page was used.

The books of the NT were written on papyrus for perhaps the first three centuries. Since this material was so fragile, most of the papyrus mss of the NT books perished long ago. But in the dry sands of southern Egypt, some of these have been found during the 20th century. There are at present (1986) 35 Greek NT papyri from the 3rd century... and two copies of John's Gospel from about AD 200!

In the 4th century the shift was made pretty much from papyrus to vellum (skins of young animals). The NT mss from the 4th to the 9th centuries are called "uncials", lit "inch-high", because they were written in large, square capital letters.

Mss from the 9th to the 15th centuries are generally "minuscules", because they were written in small letters. They are also known as "cursives" (running), because they were written in a running script. We have about 2,400 cursive NT mss, as against about 270 uncials.

("Codex" refers to a bound book, as opposed to a scroll.)

Previous Index Next