Where Will You Get Your Textual Variants?

Where will you get your textual variants? April DeConick over at the Forbidden Gospels Blog was musing on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and how it doesn’t give you all of the information that is out there. She’s right and it is worth a read. There’s also a follow-up post. However, among the commentators I think there is a little confusion about some of the resources (for example, that Swanson’s work is not an attempt to be exhaustive, which Chuck Grantham, a frequent comment guy here pointed out). In my continuous attempt to not be completely useless, I am going to contribute a little.

Okay, so I want to see all the variants for a book. What do I do? How do I get that very important data?

You Don’t

That’s right, you don’t. Here’s a very important fact for all of us to keep in mind. Not every Greek New Testament manuscript has been collated, i.e., not every manuscript has been studied and their variations noted so we know what they are. So no, you can’t have them.

And yes, this is most definitely bad. But what can we do? Well, first, there are roughly 5700 cataloged New Testament Greek manuscripts. Who is going to collate them? Until somebody can come up with some super-awesome-mega OCR technology, it will be a manual task. And there are not nearly enough people in the field to do it.

And if you think the Greek variants are all that is important, then you’re incorrect. The early translations of the New Testament are very useful, and there are tens of thousands of those. Who will collate them?

Having too many manuscripts is a great problem to have. And since we have that problem, you will not have an exhaustive source anytime soon. In the meantime, there are sources that will help you to get some of the data.

Novum Testamentum Graecum

Aka The Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, or NA27, this text is one of the two typically used by students of the Greek New Testament. Here’s a shot of page one of 1 Thessalonians:

Wow! Look at all those variants! Actually...that’s not that many, as we will see. The NA27 is good for pointing out important variants, but the lists of manuscripts in the apparatus can be a little skimpy.

Here’s a shot of the 21st edition. It has come a long way.

Don’t I have a pretty finger?

Novum Testamentum Graecum - Editio Critica Maior

The organization behind the NA27 is the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. They are working on a new edition. You can see some of their work in the volumes of the Editio Critica Maior that they have published thus far. Here’s a shot from James (I don’t have the volume on 1 Thess or I would show that...and it may not even be published yet):

So there you have many more variants. This edition will not include all variants and all manuscripts, but you have a much better source for variant data.

The United Bible Society’s Greek Text

The UBS4 is the second really popular Greek New Testament. It has the same text as the NA27, but different variants. As a general rule, it will show less variants, but will provide more information for those it goes to the trouble of showing. Here is a pic of 1 Thess:


Constantin von Tischendorf is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, New Testament textual critic of all time. He discovered and collated a plethora of manuscripts, including the very important codex Sinaiticus. The eighth edition of his Greek New Testament has the best textual apparatus around.

The amount of data in his apparatus is enormous, but is not exhaustive. His 8th edition, published in the 1800’s, has still not been surpassed in terms of apparatus. Comparatively, everyone else who has done this for the entire New Testament is a lightweight. But there are some who have done it for part of the New Testament, like...

The International Greek New Testament Project

If you want an exhaustive list of variants, this is the place to go. You can find the website for the International Greek New Testament Project here. They are attempting to work book-by-book through the New Testament and collate all Greek manuscripts and list the variants. This is only partially true in that they are (I hear) not listing singular readings (i.e., readings that only occur in one manuscript). But, this is exhaustive as you are going to get for now.

They have finished Luke and are working on John. The data on John is available online in a very inconvenient format here.

I do not have a screenshot for you because to afford one of the volumes I would have to sell a kidney or one of my children as it is published by Brill. But I have viewed the volumes and they would be quite useful.

Of course, all of these volumes are already out of date. CSNTM just discovered a number of new gospels manuscripts, and new manuscripts are popping up all the time, like four recent papyri of John.

The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text

Some editions of the Greek New Testament have a textual apparatus. Others have a "textual apparatus". This is the case for the majority text edited by Hodges and Farstad.

If you are looking for variants, don’t look there. Of course, if you are looking for the text of original New Testament, definitely don’t look there :)

New Testament Greek Manuscripts by Swanson

This is not to be confused with those who sell tasted frozen foods. I am referring to a set of books by Reuben Swanson that has variants and text laid out in a very verbose, and intriguing, manner. Here’s a screenshot from the only volume I own, that on 2 Corinthians:

His layout is very interesting and he covers a good number of manuscripts. I ran across my volume at Half Price Books just a couple days ago. I need to find the other volumes and add them to my library.

The torch for this project has apparently been passed on. Hopefully more volumes are forthcoming.


More and more frequently digital images of manuscripts are popping up on the web. The collection I am most familiar with is that of CSNTM. If you want variants, you can always go do some collating yourself! As I find more sources for variants, I promise to post info about them on the blog. So stick around.


Nathan Stitt 2008-04-05 04:57:48

I was just lamenting the lack of images that compare how the popular Greek texts display their contents. I’m going to pick up a copy of the UBS Reader’s Edition while I’m learning, but I’ve been looking to the future as for whether to go with NA27 or UBS4 etc. Conceptually I understand the differences however I’m not sure how much use I’ll make of them in practice. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a good image of the italic font used in the UBS4. It doesn’t bother me so much but I don’t like the English headers.

As an aside, my copy of the Apostolic Fathers arrived today. If there is someplace you have planned to start your series at I may try to read it in advance of your next post.

Mike 2008-04-05 05:33:28

gotta love tc...so much work...

From what I understand Hodges and Farstad actually do a reasonable job with the data in the Pericopae Adulturae and in Revelation - though in both cases they depended on other people’s work, which I suppose is find being that we tend to rely on other people’s work too - i.e. the Alands, Tisch, etc.

I think Wallace wrote that in an article somewhere...or maybe it was his review of their text...I don’t know.

Eric 2008-04-05 05:34:20

Glad you found the post useful. My next Apostolic Fathers post will likely be on 1 Clement’s take on authority, seeing how he quotes NT, OT, and other sources. Since that’s going to be covering the whole epistle, just go ahead and start reading. It will be a few days before I am finished with my thinking, so you have a several day head start :)

Eric 2008-04-05 05:41:25

Hodges has done quite a bit of work on the Greek text of Revelation. Maybe it was his dissertation. I don’t know about their individual work on the PA. The introduction to their volume has two very long discussions on both, however, and would be very useful reading for anyone who wanted to dig into the textual history of either. As for using other people’s data, I’m all for that in many cases, especially in regard to collations. Unless someone is being downright deceptive, collation is about a neutral task as you can get! And it takes an incredible amount of time. So yes, we need to have collations done and we need to depend on them!

Chuck Grantham 2008-04-06 12:34:09

Should we add for the totally Greek-impaired that the New King James Version’s New Testament has notes citing English translation of major Greek variations from the NKJV’s underlying Greek text (Textus Receptus) for both the Nestle-UBS and Majority texts? Not that that will satisfy you long if you start examining variants very deeply.

Jeff Cate 2008-04-06 10:14:07

Thanks for the good survey of the TC resources. Just a couple of additional comments about three older but still helpful resources...

C. S. E. Legg published two important volumes on Mark and Matthew (1935 and 1940, respectively) that are more inclusive of variants in those two gospels than NA27. From what I understand, it was because of Legg’s work on these two gospels that the IGNTP focused on Luke and John.

On the Apocalypse of John, H. C. Hoskier published a massive 2-volume collation of manuscripts of Revelation in 1929.

Eric 2008-04-06 10:29:18

Chuck: I’ve got an NKJV, but haven’t spent much time with it at all. I’ll look at that.

Eric 2008-04-06 10:33:34

Jeff: I’m not familiar with Legg, but I am with Hoskier. I agree, Hoskier should be mentioned here. I’ll try to head down to the DTS library (they have the Legg volumes as but don’t appear to have Hoskier), check ’em out, and upload some pics. Thanks for the tip.

Jeff Cate 2008-04-06 11:22:14

Oops, that should be S. C. E. Legg. The precise title is: Novum Testamentum graece secundum textum Westcotto-Hortianum Evangelium secundum Marcum (1935). and ...Matthaeum (1940).

James 2008-04-07 12:14:53


Eisenbrauns sells the Swanson volumes; we try to keep all of them in stock.


Eric 2008-04-07 01:32:37

James: Didn’t know that. I’ll amend the post and make a note.

Chuck Grantham 2008-04-08 02:30:57

I’m curious after copying this for friends: what did you use to scan these? A digital camera?

Eric 2008-04-08 06:16:57

Digital camera.

Chuck Grantham 2008-04-09 05:04:18

How many megapixels on that digital camera?

Eric 2008-04-09 05:24:54

4 megapixel, though I didn’t take them with the highest resolution setting.

Solomon 2008-04-10 11:59:08

Thanks for the information. I am delighted to see, as a student of Coptic, that the International Greek New Testament Project intends to include the Coptic version in its work.

I think Coptic has sort of been the neglected "stepchild" of New Testament studies, when compared with Latin or Syriac, yet it provides an important witness to the history of textual transmission.

Eric 2008-04-10 10:52:38

Solomon: I agree. I wish I knew Coptic so I could collate manuscripts! I’ve read a little on the research on versions such as Coptic, but I can’t say I am intimately familiar with the research on that language. Maybe you can post on that on your blog. I would love to see that.

Brett Williams 2008-04-16 08:34:31


Just a quick note on Swanson. Dan has asked me to transcribe P75 against B using the Swanson Horizontal Parallel Line Method. Since Swanson had already done this, I asked Dan "are you sure, since Swanson’s already done this?" He told me that Swanson is known for a lot of oversights and errors in his work.

By the way, I’ve sent you a few questions at your email and didn’t get a reply. I just wanted to see if you are getting my emails. Of course, if you are like Dan, you are probably ignoring me since I can ask way too many questions :o ) I think I asked you if you had any good grammar/syntax notes you could share with me. I’m always trying to get my hands of reading material. Hope I haven’t offended you with some of my requests. Feel free to tell me to get a life!

Eric 2008-04-16 08:43:39

Actually, Brett, I do have something. I need to find my electronic copy. Yes, I did get it. And no, I’m not ignoring you! As for Swanson, that’s a good caution. What other questions did you send me? Try sending them again. Sorry.

Chuck Grantham 2008-04-16 01:02:08

Well, it’s certainly true you just can’t avoid scribal errors. The ancient manuscripts started it off and everyone has followed their example. Swanson collected errors in the standard works and people have collected errors in Swanson at http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/texte/Swanson-errata.html.

I recall someone posting a survey of electronic Greek texts on the internet who concluded they were so rife with errors they were almost not worth using.

And so it goes....

Dave Palmer 2008-11-26 11:00:17

I took the data on the IGNTP site for the gosp. of John and made a Swanson-style table of the variants of the Pericope of the Adulteress. It has been proof-read by Dr. Leslie McFall. Download link is http://www.bibletranslation.ws/trans/pachart.pdf

I also think I have the most complete treatment of the main variants of Revelation, using Hoskier’s work. http://www.bibletranslation.ws/trans/revwgrk.pdf