Byzantine text-type

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The Byzantine text-type (also called Constantinopolitan, Syrian, ecclesiastical, and majority) is the largest group of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

The Byzantine text-type is the text-type with by far the largest number of manuscripts, especially from the invention of the minuscule (cursive) handwriting in the 9th century. For example, of 522 complete or nearly complete manuscripts of the Catholic Epistles collated by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany, 372 of them attest the Byzantine reading in at least 90% of 98 test places.

The first printed edition of the New Testament in 1516 was completed by Erasmus and published by Johann Froben of Basel on March 1, 1516. Due to the pressure of his publisher to bring their edition to market before the competing Complutensian Polyglot, Erasmus based his work on less than a half-dozen manuscripts from the Byzantine text-type, all of which dated from the twelfth century or later. This text came to be known as the Textus Receptus or received text after being thus termed by Elzevir, an enterprising publisher from the Netherlands, in his 1633 edition of Erasmus' text. The King James Version of the Bible was translated from editions of the what was to become the Textus Receptus.

Karl Lachmann (1850) was the first New Testament textual critic to produce an edition that broke with the Textus Receptus, relying mainly instead in manuscripts from the Alexandrian text-type. Although the majority of New Testament textual critics now favor a text that is Alexandrian in complexion, especially after the publication of Westcott and Hort's edition, there remain some proponents of the Byzantine text-type as the type of text most similar to the autographs. These critics include the editors of the Hodges and Farstad text (cited below), and the Robinson and Pierpoint text. The Byzantine type is also found in modern Greek Orthodox editons, though this might simply denote an unwillingness to break with established tradition.

Among those who believe that the Byzantine text is only a secondary witness to the autograph, there is some debate concerning the origin of the Byzantine text and the reason for its widespread use and homogeneity. The suggestions that have been put forward are:

  • That Lucian of Antioch used his text critical skills to produce a recension. (Jerome makes separate references to Lucian's recensions of both old and new testaments).
  • That Constantine paid for the wide distribution of manuscripts which came from a common source. (There are several references in Eusebius of Caesarea to Constantine paying for manuscript production).
  • That after the empire stopped using Greek, the only church to actively preserve the Greek text was the Byzantine church, which exercised central control from the Apostolic See of Antioch.

To give a feel for the difference between the Byzantine form of text and the Eclectic text, which is Alexandrian in character, of 800 variation units in the Epistle of James collected by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, the Byzantine and Eclectic texts are in agreement in 731 of the places (a rate of 92.3%). Many of the 69 disagreements involve differences in word order and other variants that do not appear as translatable differences in English versions. According to the preface to the New King James Version of the Bible, the Textus Receptus, the Alexandrian text-type and the Byzantine text-type are 85% identical.

See also: Alexandrian text-type, Caesarean text-type, Western text-type, Textus Receptus.

Further reading: The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, Second Edition, Edited by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1985. ISBN 0840749635.


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