Which Manuscript Family is Your English Bible Based Upon?

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


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.

12 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.

  5. Pastor Brett – Why is the Septuagint, a translation into Greek not used in KJV or other bibles? Certainly the Masoretic text was not available during Jesus’ lifetime, and it is reported that the Masoretes changed or altered some of the prophesies of the Messiah in the Septuagint because the early Christians were embracing this Greek version of the Scriptures. LXX/Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls are older and compliment each other. So why would not the text in existence during the time of Jesus and before not be used?

    1. David, I’m not sure about the “other Bibles” in your question? To my knowledge all major modern English Bibles utilized the Septuagint, as well as other sources, such as the Masoretic Text.

      1. Dear Pastor Brett:
        It is my understanding that while the Septuagint was reviewed and diligently compared during the translation of the King James Version (whose Masoretic Text is derived from the Bomberg Edition of 1525), it was not actually used in the translation. Meaning, that none of the words in the KJV OT actually come from the Septuagint. They come essentially, exclusively from the Masoretic Text.

        Three good resources on this particular point, regarding English “Bibles” and their translations, can be found in “Why We Hold to the King James Bible”, by David Cloud, “Defending the King James Bible–A Fourfold Superiority: God’s Words Kept Intact in English”, by D. A. Waite, and “A More Sure Word” by R. B. Ouellette. Of these three, I recommend R. B. Ouellette’s book as the first read. His layout, style of writing, and on-going defining of terms on the page where you are reading (with expanded definitions in an appendix) are very good and easily understood, and could easily be used as a middle-school or high-school text book.

    2. Dear David Bacon:
      It is actually very likely that the Masoretic Text was available in Christ’s time. In Luke 24:44 the KJV Christ says, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” The Lord Jesus Christ makes no mistakes. He could have just said, “…which were written [in the Word of God],” or, “…which were written concerning me.” Howbeit, he gives three sections of Scripture which also happen to be in a particular order, the canonical order of the Masoretic Hebrew Text. If He were citing the Septuagint, however, instead of “the law”, “the prophets” and then “the psalms”, it would be “the law”, “the psalms” and then “the prophets”.

      On a related note, which English Bible you use comes down to one basic question. Who is your authority?

      Men may quibble and argue about manuscripts and all kinds of things… and often end up making themselves the authority regarding inspiration and/or preservation, either in respect to the actual translation process or in deciding which translation to trust. If, however, God is solely responsible for inspiring and preserving His Word (and the words of His Word), which He claimed that He was alone is responsible to do (2 Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:89, 160), then the choice of which English Bible (and really, if any English Bible) is clarified.

      Let me unpack this in two ways…

      First, Christ said, in Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

      Simply put, by authoritatively stating, “it is written,” Christ was demonstrating His belief that the manuscripts He was quoting from were both inspired and preserved. If they were inspired, but not preserved, he would needed to say something akin to, “it [was] written,” but He said, “it IS written” (emphasis clearly mine).

      Since “it IS written” (again, emphasis mine) than what follows are the words of God and Christ said “ever word […] of God” is needed for man to live. Not most. Not many. Not a majority. “Every.” So, either there is an English Bible that has “every word […] of God” or none of them have “every”. If the latter is the case, we cannot “live” as Christ desires we live (John 10:10).

      Notice also that “every word” speaks of individual words. Now, why do I make this point? Some folks say that it is the jots and tittles that God has preserved. Well, jots and tittles are Hebrew. So, what about the Greek? To clarify, Christ said that the jots and tittles would be preserved “till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). He did not say they would be preserved forever. On the other hand, He said that His “words” would never pass away, that’s forever (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). Psalm 12:6-7 also says, “The words [plural] of the LORD are pure words [plural]: […] Thou shalt keep them [plural], O LORD, thou shalt preserve them [plural] […] for ever.” While I realize that the Psalmist was talking about the words of God in the verse 5, in an immediate sense, the Lord Jesus Christ confirmed that Psalm 12:6-7 was true toward all of the words in the Word of God, as I mentioned above. Christ is the Word of God, and He spoke, and confirmed, the words of God.

      Let me epitomize, if the jots and tittles were what God promised to preserve, He would never have used Aramaic or Greek, only Hebrew. Accent marks appear in other languages, but jots and tittles are distinctly Hebrew. Christ knew that when He said it. He was talking to Jews, to Hebrews. Or, if jots and tittles can somehow be applied to those other two ancient languages, we would all need to learn Hebrew, Aramaic and Khoine Greek so we can have “every word” of God (Matthew 4:4).

      This is because the autographs (the Originals) no longer exist. Only apographs (the copies) exist. If man is the preserving authority, even if you are fluent in those ancient languages, you can never know 100% which one is correct. There is always doubt. If God is the Preserving Authority, His Word was pure and is still pure, without loss, error or contradiction (Psalm 12:6-7; Proverbs 30:5), no matter what man thinks or does (Proverbs 30:6; Isaiah 40:8). So, how could God’s words be still preserved, if brought into English?

      In Acts 2, God moves His words from one language, spoken by Peter and the believers, into other languages, perfectly. He is able and, again, what is the smallest part of His Word He has promised to preserve forever? Not the jots and tittles… but, His words. Can He move His words between languages without issue? Absolutely. Has He? Absolutely. That’s the King James Bible.

      You can get saved out of the other versions, many of them. Though, there are a few that are so watered down, I wonder even about that. Does the KJV correct the original languages? No. It is the words of God in English. The original languages are the words of God in those languages, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Then, what of these other English versions? That (along with what I have said here) you will have to decide for yourself. Pray, seek God’s face, study it out for yourself. Trust God.

      One parting thought, though… Things that are different are not the same.

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