The Evidence That Might Be Used to Settle Priority

In the effort to determine which text-type, if any, is closest to the original, scholars can refer to various kinds of evidence.

  1. They might search ancient manuscripts to determine which text-type has the oldest readings. It is reasonable to presume that the text-type with the oldest readings is the oldest and most authentic. But the exhaustive work which has given us full attestation of every individual variant has, from one point of view, led down a blind alley. It now appears that all or nearly all of the principal variants distinguishing the various text-types existed before AD 200. We therefore have no basis in this kind of evidence for assigning priority to any one text-type.
  2. Scholars might investigate which text-type has the earliest exemplars. Again, it would be reasonable to treat the oldest as most authentic. But, as we argued in the previous lesson, historical circumstances might easily have suppressed circulation of the true text while favoring the circulation of inferior texts.
  3. Scholars might look for information concerning the origins of each text-type. But history is virtually silent about their origins.
  4. The last recourse is internal evidence, which in fact has figured most prominently in the textual debate. By general consent, the text-type showing the fewest signs of secondary process must be the oldest. But what are these signs, and which deserve most weight in assigning priority?
    1. Westcott and Hort attached considerable weight to conflation. But the argument that BT must be late because it contains conflates has been laid to rest.
    2. The same scholars regarded other features of BT as secondary also—especially its greater fullness, smoothness, and internal harmony. But it is impossible to know a priori whether the perfection of BT is the original state of the text, before corruption set in, or the final state after editorial improvement.

The position I espouse rests on two theses.

  1. Several kinds of variants are indisputably scribal changes. These include the following.
    1. Manifest corruptions. A corruption can be confidently marked as such if it is a misspelling, an error (since we can assume that the original was inerrant), a garbled version of meaning found in other variants, or pure nonsense.
    2. Elucidations. If one reading is hard to understand because it is subtle or obscure, while an alternative reading is clear and plain, there can be little doubt as to which came first. The second must be someone's attempt to remove a difficulty, so that the reader would have easier sailing.
    3. Attempts at updating. This kind of variant includes the Atticisms Sturz cites as evidence that AT exhibits a later form of Greek.
    4. Expressions of personal bias. If a reading shows a mind other than the mind of Scripture, it can be discarded as false. As a practical matter, a single variant is insufficient to establish editorial bias. Rather, definite proof that scribes were seeking to make Scripture conform to their own thinking or agenda requires a set of variants with the same tendency.
  2. Final judgment as to whether AT or BT is closer to the original should depend on which text-type displays fewer variants in these categories

The Evidence That AT Includes Corrupt Readings

Names in degenerate form

1. Matthew 10:25; 12:24; 12:27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15; 11:18; 11:19. AT (manuscript support unknown, but evidently broad enough to justify inclusion of this variant in the 1958 revised edition of Nestle's Greek New Testament) replaces "Beelzeboul" with "Beezeboul." When comparing two spellings of a name, a textual critic can be fairly certain that the form with more letters, or visually more intricate letters, or more sounds, or more difficult pronunciation is the original, or closer to it. Hence, "Beezeboul" is likely a corruption of "Beelzeboul."

2. Acts 7:43. In AT, "Remphan" deteriorates to "Romphan" (aleph), "Rompha" (B), "Raiphan" (A), and "Rephan" (C).

3. Luke 8:26. In BT, the name in this text corresponding to "Gergesenes" in Matthew 8:28 is "Gadarenes." In AT (B), it is "Gerasenes," a transparent corruption of "Gergesenes." It is likely that a copyist in the Alexandrian tradition imported "Gergesenes" to Luke 8:26 in an effort to remove what he imagined was a contradiction, but in the process he unwittingly simplified the name.


(See also #20.)

4. Matthew 1:7, 8, 10. In the genealogy of Christ, AT (aleph, B, C), substitutes Asaph for Asa, Amos for Amon. The changes reflect an origin among Gentiles poorly tutored in the Old Testament. It is surprising that CT accepts these obvious corruptions as authentic.

5. John 7:8. BT records that Jesus told his brothers, "I am not yet going up to this feast." In fact, He did go up, but only later. By changing the critical qualifier "not yet" to "not," AT (aleph), which CT accepts, turns Jesus into a prevaricator. Here is an instance where most English translations, including the NIV, are embarrassed to follow CT. I classify this reading in AT as an error on the assumption that Jesus could not have said what is attributed to Him.

Garbled readings

6. Acts 19:16. TR reads,

And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 19:16

Here, AT (aleph, A, B) says "leaped on both." But the unhappy victims were no less than seven men.

7. Matthew 23:38; Luke 13:35. AT (B in Matthew; aleph, A, B in Luke) transforms the dreadful warning, "Your house is left unto you desolate," into a cheery promise, "Your house is left unto you," which is quite discordant with the context. Perhaps some small-minded editor thought the original version to be contradictory with the next statement that some Jews would remain to see Christ come again.

8. 1 Timothy 3:16. By changing "God" to "who," AT (aleph, A, C) converts a complete grammatical thought into a puzzling fragment.

9. 1 Corinthians 11:24. AT (aleph, A, B, C) drops "broken." In other words, according to AT, the traditional words at Communion are wrong, because what Jesus really said was, "This is my body which is for you." But bereft of any verb to show what happened to His body, this somewhat awkward declaration leaves us pondering the sense. In what way was His body "for us"? The answer, according to BT, was that His body was "given" for us (Luke 22:19) and "broken" for us (1 Cor. 11:24). The Alexandrian version of this text may have arisen when some copyist thought he spied a contradiction of John 19:33.

10. John 1:18. AT (aleph, B, C) introduces the strange formula "only begotten God" in place of the familiar "only begotten Son." CT accepts the former reading, even though the latter is unquestionably an authentic Johannine expression (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). The phrase "only begotten" describes His Sonship, not His divinity.

11. Ephesians 1:15. Whereas BT represents Paul as commending both the faith and the love of the Ephesians, AT (aleph, A, B) removes the words "the love," leaving us with the peculiar statement, "Because of this I also, having heard of the faith among you in the Lord Jesus and which is toward all the saints . . . ." In what meaningful sense was their faith directed toward all the saints? CT rejects AT here.

The Evidence That AT Includes Elucidations

Interpretive changes

12. 2 Peter 2:4. AT (aleph, A, B, C) emends "chains of darkness" to "pits of darkness." The latter seems to be an attempt to interpret the former. No editor, however imaginative, would have inserted the former in place of the latter. Despite the unanimity of the Alexandrian codices at this text, even CT has decided that they cannot be correct.

13. 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The KJV rendering is,

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

2 Thessalonians 2:8

AT (aleph, A, B) substitutes the general term "destroy" for the specific term "consume." Deletion of the idea that the Antichrist will be burned up was probably a misguided effort to avoid contradicting Rev. 19:20, which says that he will be cast alive into hell. But this is the work of a plodding editor. What Scripture is teaching is that just as Christ was the first of the righteous to be raised, so Antichrist will be the first of the unrighteous to be raised. He will be raised and immediately sent to his eternal abode.

The Evidence That AT Includes Attempts at Updating

Removal of an archaism

14. Revelation 13:18. AT (aleph, A, C) spells out the words for the number 666 rather than use three alphabetic numerals. As stated in BT, these numerals include "waw," which was already archaic in the first century.

The Evidence That AT Includes Biased Readings

The ancient text with the most obvious earmarks of revision is not BT, but AT. My view is that AT appears to have been shaped by editors who were wary how the text would be received when read in public. We must posit some such origin to explain why AT often seems to shy away from material that might provoke controversy or unbelief, to wink at emerging superstitions, and in many other ways to promote the interests of the clergy. In many readings, such as those itemized below, AT shows the clear imprint of minds swayed by political considerations.

Possible rationalistic changes

15. Luke 22:43-44. AT (aleph, A, B) omits verses 43 and 44. The effect is to deny that Jesus sweat drops of blood. The incident is verified by many church fathers, including Justin Martyr (c. 165) and Irenaeus (c. 202).

16. 2 Peter 3:10. AT refrains from asserting that the whole earth will burn up. This was, of course, inconceivable within the framework of ancient cosmology, which regarded both fire and earth as elemental. In place of "shall be burned up," aleph and B have, "will be laid bare," and C offers, "will be made invisible." The early witnesses are silent on this text, except for Origen (c. 254) and p72 (Papyrus Bodmer VII, VIII, 3rd-4th cent.), which favor AT.

17. John 5:4. By excising verse 4, AT (aleph, B, C) declines to say that an angel occasionally descended to the Pool of Bethesda. Here, some early witnesses confirm BT. These include the Diatessaron of Tatian (2nd cent.) and Tertullian (c. 220). Verse 7, which reports the man's keen desire to enter the moving waters first, seems to presume the information given in verse 4.

18. Mark 16:18. In AT (aleph, B), the passage from verse 9 to verse 20 has disappeared. Ancient witnesses supporting omission include Clement (c. 215) and Origen, both from Egypt. Irenaeus and Tertullian support inclusion. Whether the verses that conclude Mark in BT are the original ending has fueled endless controversy. They certainly do not seem to flow naturally from the preceding passage. But it is possible that the original ending was accidentally torn away, and a new one was supplied either by Mark himself or by someone else under apostolic supervision. The apparent extraneousness of the long ending is therefore not a sufficient reason to discard it. Why AT omits it is uncertain. Perhaps someone rejected it because he disliked the teaching that some believers will enjoy immunity to snakes and poison.

19. John 8:59. AT (aleph, B) omits the last part, "going through the midst of them, and so passed by." Perhaps someone did not believe that Jesus made Himself invisible. The earliest sources of the longer variant are A and the correctors of aleph.

20. Luke 23:45. Instead of saying that the sun "was darkened," AT (aleph, B, C) claims that it "was eclipsed." Arndt and Gingrich state that when the Greek term "eclipsed" describes the sun, it may signify darkening in a general sense or it may have special reference to the darkening that takes place at an actual eclipse (1). It is difficult to judge, however, to what extent their opinion has been affected by the very text we are considering. The use of the term in AT seems to imply that the darkness at the Crucifixion was an ordinary eclipse rather than a complete supernatural darkness over the whole world. But a solar eclipse at the time of the Crucifixion would have been a scientific impossibility, since Jesus died in the middle of a lunar month, when the sun and the moon are on the opposite sides of the earth.

21. John 3:13. The clause, "who is in heaven," is missing from AT (aleph, B). It would appear that someone ignorant of His divine omnipresence found it difficult to imagine how Jesus could be simultaneously in heaven and on earth. The longer version is attested by several early sources including the Diatessaron, Hippolytus (c. 235), and Novatian (3rd cent.).

22. 1 Corinthians 15:51. The profound revelation that some saints will never see death because they will be raptured disappears from AT (aleph, A, C), which changes, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," to, "We shall all sleep, but we shall not all be changed." The new thought, evidently arising from disbelief that anyone will be spared death, does not fit either the preceding or the succeeding context. Paul has not been talking about unbelievers—those who will not be changed. And he goes on to explain how, in fact, we will all be changed. Here, CT (as well as B) abandons AT.

Possible accommodations of emerging superstitions

Some of these readings are undoubtedly older than the superstitions they support. But we must understand that the devil was working to introduce these superstitions (and to corrupt the Scriptures so that they would be a less effective hindrance) long before they were generally accepted. So, whether a reading reflects man's effort to bolster an existing superstition or Satan's effort to prepare the way for one in the future, such accommodation is valid evidence that the reading is not original. Moreover, the concurrence of all the following readings in Alexandrian codices from the fourth century, after the superstitions which they support had emerged, suggests bias in editorial selection.

23. John 6:55. The idea that the bread and wine of communion are the actual body and blood of Christ (an idea traceable back to the third century) has crept into AT (B, C). It replaces "My flesh is really food" with "My flesh is real food.," and "My blood is really drink" with "My blood is real drink." Here, BT agrees with aleph and p66 (Papyrus Bodmer II, c. 200). The oldest support for the other reading is seemingly Clement or p75 (Papyrus Bodmer XIV, XV, early 3rd cent.).

24. Matthew 1:25. By dropping "her firstborn" from the statement that Mary bore a son, AT (aleph, B) makes allowance for the belief that she was a perpetual virgin. The reading in BT is also found in the Diatessaron. Otherwise, neither reading has early support.

25. Acts 8:37. By eliminating verse 37 altogether, AT (aleph, A, B, C) as well as BT avoids declaring that belief is a prerequisite for baptism—a doctrine at odds with government policy after Christianity became a state religion. The verse is also missing in p45 (3rd cent.), but Irenaeus and Tertullian recommend its inclusion.

26. James 2:20. According to AT (B, C), faith without works is not "dead," only "useless." No earlier source verifies this substitution. Here we have an example of easy-believism in the fourth century. The reading "dead" appears in aleph and A.

27. Romans 11:6. AT (aleph, A, C) omits, "But if of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work," thus betraying discomfort with sola fides. The omission first appears in p46 (c. 200). B has the longer version of the text.

28. Luke 8:45. We see most of Peter's faults as lovable or grand-tragic projections of ourselves, but however great our charitable indulgence of Peter might be on other occasions, we are likely to recognize that His rebuke of the Lord on this occasion was simply vulgar insolence. Peter said, "Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, 'Who touched me?'" Therefore, lest the vignette lower Peter in our esteem, AT (aleph, B) removes the sarcastic question, "And sayest thou, 'Who touched me?'" The shorter version also appears in p75, the longer in A and the Arabic Diatessaron.

29. Luke 9:55-56. The trend toward veneration of the saints is glimpsed also in the seeming alteration of Luke's record concerning James and John's request for divine judgment upon certain cities in Samaria. AT (aleph, A, B, C, with p45 and p75) omits the entire quotation following the words "rebuked them." It therefore suppresses Jesus' stinging accusation that James and John were controlled by another spirit. The authenticity of the omitted words is attested by Marcion (2nd cent.) and the Diatessaron.

30. Luke 9:54. Probably the same motive—the desire to protect great men of God from reproach—underlies the deletion (aleph, B, with p45 and p75) of "even as Elias did." Here, A and C join BT, with corroboration from Marcion and the Diatessaron.

31. Hebrews 11:37. When cataloging the exploits of the heroes of faith, AT as embodied in p46, an early Alexandrian papyrus, leaves out "was tempted," as if these spiritual giants were beyond temptation. Incredibly, CT follows p46, ignoring not only BT, but also A, aleph, and a host of other witnesses against the omission.

32. Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Corinthians 7:5. In all these texts, AT (aleph and B in all cases) eliminates fasting and mentions only prayer. Support for the Byzantine text of Mark 9:29 comes from p45. Another papyrus, p50 (4th-5th cent.), agrees with BT in Acts 10:30. Dionysius (c. 265) corroborates the reference to fasting in 1 Corinthians 7:5. These three passages are highly important, because they establish a pattern showing that the omission of fasting was not haphazard, but deliberate, in furtherance of a special theological opinion. According to Hills, "These omissions are probably due to the influence of Clement of Alexandria and other Gnostics, who interpreted 'fasting' in a spiritual sense and were opposed to literal fasting" (2). If the originators of AT were willing to shape these passages according to their own views, why not others?

Possible retreats from categorical statements

33. Luke 10:42. BT reports Jesus saying, "But one thing is needful." AT (aleph, B) absurdly has Jesus correcting Himself in midsentence, "But few things are needed—or only one." The basis of most modern translations is the critical text (CT), which is generally very uncritical in accepting the readings of aleph and B. Yet here, the editors of CT have decided that AT must be wrong.

34. Romans 8:28. AT (A, B) significantly compromises the promise, "All things work together for good," by emending it to, "In all things God works for good." The recent editions of CT reject this reading in AT, although the NIV accepts it.

Possible antisemitic deletions

35. Luke 23:34. According to AT (B), Jesus did not say, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."

36. Acts 24:6-8. AT (aleph, A, B) is missing the words,

6 . . . and would have judged according to our law.

7 But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands,

8 Commanding his accusers to come unto thee: . . . .

Acts 24:6-8

Deletion of the lawyer's claims that the Jews intended to judge Paul by the law and that they were victimized by Roman violence betrays reluctance to create sympathy for the Jews.

37. Acts 28:29. The KJV gives,

28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

29 And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.

Acts 28:28-29

AT (aleph, A, B) lacks verse 29. Apparently, rather than end the book with a suggestion that some Jews were still receptive to Paul's message, AT prefers to emphasize the new ascendancy of the Gentiles in God's favor.

Possible prudish deletions

38. John 7:53-8:11. AT (aleph, A, B, C) simply does not believe the story that has Jesus allowing an adulterous woman to go free without punishment or word of condemnation. It strikes out the whole passage.

39. Mark 10:7. The phrase "and cleave [literally, 'shall be joined'] to his wife" is absent from AT (aleph, B). The likely motive for this deletion is the desire to dodge the appearance of sanctioning an unholy thought. Even the usually credulous editors of CT doubt that this deletion is authentic.

Possible changes to protect the status and authority of church leaders

40. Acts 15:34. The full passage runs as follows:

32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.

33 And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto the apostles.

34 Notwithstanding it pleased Silas to abide there still.

Acts 15:32-34

But AT (aleph, A, B) omits verse 34. It perhaps does not want the flock to think that Silas, in obedience to his own inner leading, disregarded a directive of the church.

41. Acts 14:23. AT (aleph, A, B, C) changes "having appointed for them elders in every church" to "having appointed for them in every church elders." The attachment of the modifying phrase "in the church" to "having appointed" rather than to "elders" brings a subtle shift in meaning. Whereas the original clearly states that every church received multiple elders (a precedent distasteful to church leaders after the church had become highly verticalized), the altered version leaves open the possibility that in every city the apostles appointed elders to go out individually unto churches in the neighboring district.

42. 1 Timothy 3:3. In the list of qualifications for eldership, AT (aleph, A) leaves out "not greedy of filthy lucre" although it retains "not covetous." One can imagine that an overly prosperous church leader would dislike these words, fearing they might cause his people to eye him suspiciously.

43. John 10:29. Instead of saying, "My Father . . . is greater than all," AT (aleph, B) substitutes, "That which My Father hath given unto me is greater than all." The church is made supreme rather than the Father.

Possible changes to avoid antagonizing solid citizens in the church

44. Luke 8:43. The comment "who had spent all her living on physicians" might have been offensive to certain medical men in the church, but, despite its absence from AT (B), it is certainly authentic. It is a signature text. The anonymous writer of each gospel makes one or more self-depreciating remarks which helps us to identify him. Luke was himself a physician.

Possible changes to avoid antagonizing civil authority

45. Matthew 6:13. Perhaps because recitation of the Lord's Prayer might be overhead by people seeking occasion to accuse the church of sedition, AT (aleph, B) excises, "For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever."

The Evidence that AT Is Not the Original Text

We have found four categories of readings in AT that savor strongly of being derived from the rival readings in BT. We are excluding from consideration all the stylistic evidence that Sturz (relying on Kilpatrick) accumulates in favor of recognizing BT as the older text-type. We are also excluding some of the evidence which a long line of critics, including Burgon and Hills (3), have brought forward to show that AT is polluted with heretical changes.

  1. Twelve readings in AT (not counting the repetitions of "Beezeboul") seem to be corruptions (1-11).
  2. Two readings in AT seem to be elucidations (12-13).
  3. One reading in AT seems to be an attempt at updating (14).
  4. Thirty-three readings in AT seem to express ecclesiastical biases.
    1. Eight seem to be rationalistic excisions or emendations (15-22).
    2. Twelve seem to support emerging superstitions (23-32).
    3. Thirteen seem to express other ecclesiastical biases (33-45).

I am unaware of any readings in BT that we could justly place in any of these categories. If any reader can furnish me with more examples of secondary readings in AT (or any in BT, for that matter), I would welcome them. In my judgment, the examples cited offer enough of a pattern to warrant the conclusion that AT is the later text.

If the New Testament was a secular work rather than the Word of God, and if Westcott and Hort had not established AT as the choice of scholars over against simple believers, scholars would have rejected AT long ago. Over the years, the editors of CT have moved away from unreserved acceptance of AT, and now they give greater weight to readings with support from other traditions. But with every step of retreat from AT, they undermine their fundamental allegiance to AT as the most reliable text.

Source of the Alexandrian Readings

I am not alleging that AT is a systematic overhaul of the original. The changes appear to be clustered rather than evenly distributed. Also, they have widely varying manuscript support, and a particular change may not appear in all texts expressing the same idea. Thus, the process yielding AT was probably haphazard. For whatever reasons, a particular copyist made particular changes. In time, as novel readings were circulated, copyists could pick and choose according to their own liking. The earliest exemplars of AT must have been the work of copyists who, in their selection of variants, acquiesced to the biases we have described.


  1. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 242.
  2. Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended, 4th ed. (Des Moines, Iowa: The Christian Research Press, 1984), 138.
  3. Ibid., 126-38.