Which Manuscript Family is Your English Bible Based Upon?

When it comes to the many thousands of manuscripts upon which our English Bibles are based, there are basically two major “families” of manuscripts: the Byzantine family and the Alexandrian family.

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The predominant view among conservative Bible scholars today is to prefer the ALEXANDRIAN family of manuscripts…

…hence most modern English translations either footnote or bracket certain words, phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs (John 7:53-8:11; Mark 16:9-20)… words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs which were accepted as God’s Word in Bibles prior to the 20th Century.

But I want to give you five reasons, among many, that I prefer the BYZANTINE family of manuscripts:

1. While we have no 2nd Century manuscripts from this family, we see 2nd Century Church Fathers quoting Byzantine readings.

2. The Alexandrian family was discovered only in one region of Egypt; the Byzantine family was found in all parts of the Mediterranean world.

3. A massive majority suggests early Christians thought these renderings were superior and chose to copy from this family rather than the other. (The Alexandrian family was located in a remote part of the known world and probably had less manuscripts to compare).

4. The Byzantine family seems complete; the Alexandrian does not (see Mark 16).

5. God has kept the Byzantine family preserved and known through the entire history of the Church; the Alexandrian family was lost and unknown for over 1,500 years.

The words of the Lord are pure words,
Like silver tried in a furnace of earth,
Purified seven times. 

You shall keep them, O Lord,
You shall
preserve them from this generation forever. - Psalm 12.6-7

Probably most of the readers of this blog are using English Bibles that are based more upon the Alexandrian family than the Byzantine family. Should you burn them and go back to the tried and true KJV?  No. Here’s the thing, it’s not a major deal.

* Less than 5% difference between the two families of texts, the main difference being the Alexandrian family is smaller (Mark 16:9-20 omitted, other verses and words omitted).

* No major Christian doctrine impacted or changed (the most significant doctrinal issue is that the importance of fasting is weakened in the Alexandrian texts).

* As proof that I do not believe it is a major concern, I continue to preach and teach from an Alexandrian-based translation (ESV) even though I have preferred the Byzantine family for some time now. When I get to a verse or passage in the ESV that is impacted, such as Matthew 6:13, I point out how the verse(s) is bracketed or in footnotes, explain why, and then preach it as God’s Word.

Whichever textual family is actually correct, the Christian faith is not compromised.

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8 thoughts on “Which Manuscript Family is Your English Bible Based Upon?”

  1. I like your approach. I have had several run-ins with KJV only folks and their thinking on the subject is poor. For the most part, they prefer the KJV over even the Greek texts and where the KJV differs from the Greek tex, they will say that the KJV, by the inspiration of God, is correcting the Greek. Ironically, when I ask them which edition of the KJV is the “pure Word of God,” they don’t know.

    1. Thanks, S.D. I appreciate you recognizing that I am far from KJV-only. For a long time thought that there were basically only two camps in American Christianity: (1) the KJV-only crowd and (2) those who accepted and preferred the modern English translations: NIV, NASB, ESV, etc. Then I noticed a third group: those who preferred word-for-word (a.k.a, “formal equivalent”) translations such as the NASB and the ESV.

      After seminary and for several years I was in firmly entrenched in that third group. But after more research and reading I arrived at the above position.

  2. To be fair. In the KJVOnly camp they know of the 2 editions, these are editions not versions. The 1611 and the 1769. The difference is in the spelling of certain words, but the 1611 and the 1769 are identical. So to them both are God’s Word, to them they are on equal standing. So basically that is not a winning argument , because basically every KJV is God’s Word to them. Remember editions are not versions.

  3. If you don’t mind my asking, what books or material did you read to help you arrive at your position regarding the Byzantine texts over the Alexandrian ones?

    1. Martin,

      First, I did a lot of research online and didn’t do an adequate job of keeping a record of the various web pages I visited. There’s a lot out there… some really good, some really bad, and a lot in between.

      Second, I read The New King James Version: in the Great Tradition by the late Dr. Art Farstad, who was the head of the translation team for the NKJV, which is unique in that it is the only modern English translation based upon the Byzantine family of texts rather than the Alexandrian. If you read this book, you’ll find that he makes some very strong arguments for staying with the Byzantine family.

      Third, I have read a lot of articles and arguments from the Trinitarian Bible Society. I really like the work they are doing to spread the Word of God. While I don’t agree with all their arguments (they are too exclusively KJV, even though they are technically not KJV-only), they have opened my eyes to a lot of the inadequacies of most modern English translations.

      Finally, I should note that while I have benefited greatly from research, long before I started doing the research I was struggling internally with the idea that there was a generally accepted corpus of Scripture for over 1800 years of church life, then all of a sudden Constantin von Tischendorf discovers some ancient texts in Egypt, and then… boom! we’re all ready to start cutting out words, phrases, verses, and in a couple of cases (see John 8 and Mark 16) entire sections.

      So, I started my research out of a troubled spirit about the Alexandrian texts… Perhaps I was not as objective as I would have liked to have been, but you have to also know that when I was in seminary, I actually wrote a research paper for my Greek class arguing that the last half of Mark 16 should not be in our Bibles. So I’ve come a long way.

  4. Very good answer Brett. I myself was a NIV, modern translations fan. But after study, mostly of what you did. I come to the conclusion that the KJV is a better translation and now I I lean more towards the KJV.

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