Early Stability in the Transmission of John’s Gospel

Here’s an important post by friend and colleague Larry Hurtado, and a reference to an important new work on the earliest papyri of John’s Gospel…..

Early Textual Transmission of the Gospel of John
by larryhurtado
I’m pleased to learn of the publication of an important study of the earliest extant evidence for the textual transmission of the Gospel of John: Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John: Stability and Fluidity in its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill 2018). The publisher’s online catalog entry is here.

We have more early manuscript evidence for the Gospel of John than any other NT writing, including remnants of manuscripts dated to the third century, and in some cases the second century. I’ve referred to Bell’s study in earlier postings, e.g., here. Using an innovative approach that allowed him to measure the extent and nature of textual variation among the earliest witnesses to GJohn, Bell demonstrates that they exhibit an impressive stability in the transmission of this text.

Indeed, in another innovative step, Bell also compares the extent and nature of textual variation in these early witnesses to GJohn with the manuscripts of the 4th century and later, and the result is that the earliest witnesses compare quite favorably with the later ones.

So, against the oft-repeated claims of a “wild” and “chaotic” state and transmission of the text of the Gospels in the second century, Bell’s study piles up a considerable body of data showing otherwise. I think that it should now be noticed by anyone interested in the early textual transmission of NT writings.

The volume is a revised version of Bell’s PhD thesis completed here in Edinburgh. It’s another of the many excellent PhD studies completed here over the last twenty years or so. Congratulations, Lonnie!


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