Bible Manuscripts

Bible Manuscripts - Overview

Biblical manuscripts, copies and translations are authentic documents of any handwritten copy or portion of text of an original biblical author or book. These manuscripts are important as they authentic the original text of the biblical books and help us to understand their early interpretation and inspiration. 

Every original text was copied many times over by different scribes verifying the original source as the copies are found to independently authenticate what the original text said.

Fragments of the original texts or manuscripts are found in various conditions that help add to the authenticity of the copies of the various version of the text we have today. 

The fact that the bible is known to be 99% consistent among all translations and worldwide copies is a staggering and awe inspiring. This fact points to the power of God preserving His word through all of time. 



Old Testament - Manuscripts, Copies and Fragments of the Bible

Hebrew Manuscripts & Texts

Here is a list of discovered Biblical texts and manuscripts listed in descending order:

The Aleppo Codex 

c. 920 a.d., once known as one of the oldest manuscripts of the Tanakh  (Old Testament) until the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. This codex was compiled using the Masoretic texts.

The Leningrad Codex

c. 1008 a.d. once known as one of the oldest manuscripts of the Tanakh (Old Testament) until the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. It utilized the Masoretic text for its compilation.

Vulgate Text (Latin Vulgate)

Written between the 4th and 8th century c.e. in Latin. The Vulgate is a work of Jerome of Stridon in 382 a.d. He was commissioned by Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina Gospels used by the Roman Church to create a better Latin translation, and progressively became the bible of the western church. 

OT - The Latin Vulgate contains Jeromes translation of the Hebrew Bible (proto-Masoretic Text).

Amiatinus Codex

Written between the 5th and 8th century c.e. in Latin.

Peshitta Text (Syriac Peshitta)

Written in 500 c.e. in the Syriac language. Scholars believed that the Hebrew Old Testament was translated in 200 a.d into Syriac for this text. The manuscript from which the Peshitta was copied is from an earlier unknown manuscript. 

The Peshitta contained the NT books except the books of 2 Peter, 2,3 John, Jude and Revelation, believed to have been translated from Greek into Syriac in 500 a.d.

Targum Text

Written between 100 c.e and 500 c.e. in Hebrew/ Aramaic. A Targum was an originally spoken translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language.  This was especially necessary as the Jewish people became more integrated into other societies that did not speak Hebrew/ Aramaic. 

Coptic Text

Written in 3rd or 4th century c.e. there have been many translations of the bible into Coptic. Of the many dialects of the Coptic people, the Sahidic was the primary use for the pre-Islamic era. After the 11th century, Bohairic became the leading dialect.

The manuscripts used for these translations where mostly the Alexandrian Greek version. 

Masoretic Text (MT)

Written from 100 c.e to 1000 c.e. in Hebrew. The Aleppo and Leningrad are examples of this text.  The Masoretes used Targum texts of the first century to compile the earliest copies of the Masoretic texts. 

A Targum was an originally spoken translation of the Hebrew Bible into another language.  This was especially necessary as the Jewish people became more integrated into other societies that did not speak Hebrew/ Aramaic. 

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia-

An edition of the Masoretic Text. It was meant to be an exact copy of the Masoretic Text.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)

 c. 300 b.c. - 60 b.c. Is a collection of a great many copies of the oldest known Hebrew copies of an earlier manuscript. Most of these scrolls are fragmentary. Some scrolls associated with the Judean Desert site date as early as the 8th century b.c.

Nash Papyrus

Written 200 b.c. A manuscript purchased in Egypt in 1902 by an antiquities dealer, Walter Llewellyn Nash. It is written in Hebrew it is one of the oldest known biblical text discovered prior to the Dead Sea Scrolls. It contains the 10 commandments from Exodus and the Shema Yisrael Prayer. Ancient Jewish sources

Samaritan Pentateuch (SP)

Written in 200 b.c. to 100 b.c. in Hebrew. The original manuscript for this text may date back as far as the second temple period (586 b.c. - 70 a.d.). It is the oldest paleo-hebraic text in the world. 

The Samaritans where a people group that trace their lineage back to the Northern Israelite Kingdoms destruction in 722 b.c.e. to the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. They created their original copies of the Pentateuch or the first five books of the bible at approx. this timeframe, back to Josiah in 610 b.c. Samaritan theology venerated Josuahs alter on Mt. Gerizim at Shechem and reject all scripture except the first five books of Moses.

Septuagint (LXX)

Written from 300 b.c.e to 100 b.c.e in Greek. Fragments have been found dating to the second century b.c.e and the complete manuscript date to the 4th century c.e. Completed copies of this text re found in the codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and other earlier papyri. The term Septuagint is Greek for the number 70, as this work was completed by 70 Jewish scribes.

Elephantine Passover Papyrus

Dates to 419 b.c.. This scroll contians instructions for keeping the feast of unleavened bread found in Exodus 12.15.

Ketef Hinnom Scrolls

Written in 650 b.c.e to 587 b.c.e in Hebrew Paleo Hebrew Alphabet. Amulets with priestly blessings have been found that date to this time period.

Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon

Dates all the way back to 1000 b.c.. This artifact contains scriptures found in Exodus 23.2, Ps 72.4 and similars verse found in Isa 1.17. 

Manuscript Translation Derivatives

This chart shows the relationship between various significant ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament:

Mt - denotes the Masoretic Text

LXX - denotes the original Septuagint

X (Aleph) - Codex Sinaiticus

A - Codex Alexandrinus

B - Codex Vaticanus

Q - Codex Marchalianus


New Testament - Manuscripts, Copies and Fragments of the Bible

Greek Manuscripts

The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work of literature. It has over 5800 known complete and fragmented Greek manuscripts, 10k Latin and over 9000 in other languages including Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopian, Slavic etc. dates ranging from 100 a.d to 1500 a.d. 

List of Greek New Testament Manuscripts

Bezae Codex

Written in the 5th century B.C. in both Greek and Latin. 

Codex Claromontanus 

Written in the 5th century A.d. in both Greek and Latin.

Papyrus Fragments

Most of the oldest Greek manuscripts and first generation copies of the New Testament are fragmented pieces that remain of the original. Most of these fragments from the first few centuries a.d. where written on papyrus, the typical writing material of that time and region. Papyrus is writing paper or parchment paper made from the reeds that grow along the Nile river. Most of the books of the new testament where originally letter written to various churches in the first century. The known composition of these letters being bound into books is found to date to the 4th and 5th century.  

Various manuscripts date between 32 B.C and 640 A.D

Rylands Papyri is a collection of thousands of Papyri Fragments and documents


Completed Biblical Manuscripts

A number of notable completed or mostly completed manuscripts of the entire Old and New Testament Bible are as follows:

Desiderius Erasmus Greek New Testament - c.1516 - Desiderius compiled the first published edition of the Greek New Testament. He based his work off of several older manuscripts because he did not have a single work to compile his work from. 

The 4 Great Uncial Codices

The Great Uncial Codices are ancient manuscripts containing the majority of both the Old and New Testament:

1.) Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - 500 a.d. - A manuscript of the New Testament and some Old Testament books written in Greek. 

OT - This codex only contains portions of 6 of the Old Testament books from the Septuagint, including Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom, Sirach

NT - The New Testament portion is mostly intact, only missing 2 Thess, 2 John.

2.) Codex Alexandrius - 500 a.d. - Dating to the 5th century and contains most of the books of the New Testament. This is another Greek manuscript considered an uncial, because it contains both the New and Old Testament. As of 2023 it resided in the British Library. 

OT - Codex Alexandrius contains the Septuagint copy of the Old Testament. 

NT - It contains the complete copy of the New Testament books including 1 Clement and 2 Clements. 

3.) Codex Vaticanus - 400 a.d., a 4th century manuscript that contains a majority of the Greek Old and New Testament. The Codex Vaticanus is considered to be the oldest extant copy of the Bible. 

OT - The codex originally contained the Septuagint version of the OT, lacking only the 1-4 Maccabees and the prayer of Manasseh. 

NT - It contains all books of the NT except 1,2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon and Revelation. 

4.) Codex Sinaiticus - 400 a.d. - a 4th century manuscript of a Greek bible containing the New Testament, including the epistle of Barnabas and Hermes, and the majority of the Old Testament.

OT - The Codex contained all of the Old Testament books in the Septuagint.

NT - the Codex contained all the book in the NT including the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistles of Barnabas.


Translations and Printed Editions & Textual Criticism

Various NT versions have been printed as scholars utilize many old manuscripts to create a completed print edition of the New Testament. Textual critics look at variations among the manuscripts and use the most agreed phrasing or words to complete their work. A number of notable or highly used printed additions are as follows:

Vulgate or Latin Vulgate

A late 4th century translation of the Bible into Latin. The Vulgate was a work compiled mostly from the Christian theologian Jerome. In 382 Jerome had been commissioned by the head of the Church to revise the Vetus Latina Gospels used by the Roman Church. The Vulgate became increasingly used in the Western Church.

Novum Instrumentum Omne

The first published New Testament in Greek. Prepared by Desiderius Erasmus in 1516. Erasmus used several different manuscripts to compile his work during the years 1466 - 1536. 

Textus Receptus -

These are all printed editions of the Greek New Testament from the Erasmus Novum Intrumentum Omne in 1516 to the Elzevir Edition in 1633. 

September Testament - 

Martin Luther used the Novum to create his version in German.

English New Testament (KJV & Geneva)- 

William Tryndale used the Novum to create his version in English, which later became used for the KJV and Geneva Bible.

Novum Testamentus Graece (Nestle-Aland Edition)

Another critical edition of the New Testament, using a large number of manuscripts from which scholars compiled a work close to the original. It is known as the Nsetle-Aland Edition after its editors, Edberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland. 

Many of today's Greek to English interlinear New Testaments utilize this text.