Any good books on the various manuscripts used as the source materials for the Bible?

I am especially interested in a few areas.

  1. Genesis.
  2. 1 Samuel
  3. Mark
  4. 1 corinthians

Though I’m interested in those 4 areas I am generally interested in this subject for the entire Bible.

Would be cool to have hundreds or manuscripts translated to compare in chronological order with the cultural backstories of that manuscripts era.

There are Hebrew and Greek critical apparatuses that attempt to provide the earliest and best versions of the text along with all of the variations found in the known manuscripts (something like 5,000 for the Greek NT but many are fragments that are sometimes quite small). I would guess you would need to know the original languages to make full use of these.

It has been a while since I read it but I would recommend The Earliest Christian Artifacts, Manuscripts and Christian Origins by Larry W. Hurtado.

Also Books and Readers in the Earth Church, A History of Early Christian Texts by Harry Y. Gamble.

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Thanks for the book suggestion.

I was looking at a handful of various fragments today. Some just a few verses long. But as you said, there are thousands of them. Though just hundreds for many of the books. Sill have to check Bible Hub also. I feel like I remember seeing searching Bible translations based off of various fragments before.

I learned quite a bit in “Evidence That Demands a Verdict,” and “Inspiration and Incarnation” (Pete Enns) is also helpful. “God’s Word In Human Words” examines higher criticism from an evangelical perspective that still takes Scripture highly (Kenton Sparks). I have not yet finished the latter, but found it very informative so far. Thanks.

Robert Alter’s version of the OT is reportedly very accurate. I am not sure what he wrote about the various manuscripts, though

I am not certain what exactly you are seeking. Have you seen the NET Bible available free at

The notes include textual support for the words chosen.

Oddly enough NET is one of the few bibles I really don’t like because of their commentary. I feel that often they are very deceitful.

For example in acts 2:38 they try to suggest a potential reading of eis could be because of. They then go into how for can be read as doing it “ for something as in to obtain “ or more likely for as in doing it for them as in because of.

But it’s not Gar ( g1063 ).

It’s one of the very few bibles that try to force a theological thought into a actual definition.

I believe that last link shows the for ( Eis ) as opposed to for (Gar ) is a understood as into and not because of.

The translation note provides 4 possible ways to translate εἰς so I don’t see how you are saying they are forcing a particular definition. And they reference F. F. Bruce who is certainly a conservative scholar.

No. They state what it most likely is, and give info on how almost no one translate it as because of, but acts like it’s the main translation.

It’s fine. You like it. I think it’s one of the worst. I’m just trying to find out about the early manuscripts. The best translations would be a cool thread for a post though.

The standard work on the manuscripts of the New Testament is (or at least used to be) The Text of the New Testament, by Bruce Metzger. I haven’t looked at the 4th edition, which adds Bart Ehrman as an author.


@SkovandOfMitaze Mark has no manuscript attestation until the third century. p45 is the earliest with Mark 4-9 and 11-12 around the middle of the third century. p88 has a few verses from Mark 2 ca. 4th century where we have Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus as well. Manuscript evidence stats increasing significantly beyond this point. The predominant view in scholarship today is Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke were both literarily dependent on the written text of Mark in composing their own Gospels. Since both of them essentially expanded Mark this shorter Gospel, most of which was contained in the other two was not quite as popularity for a while in the early church.

You also really can’t go by strict chronological order. You have to take into account provenance and I think most NT manuscripts fall into distinct “textual families”.

@Bill_II suggested Gamble’s work. I have that work. It is a good introduction to the book making process in antiquity and the idea of copyright rules being non-existent an so on. It also goes through the dissemination of early Christian works. It is solid overall (maybe a pinch conservative in some areas for me) but I don’t think it really focused on different manuscripts over time.

@glipsnort is correct in that Metzger’s work is seminal. He also has a work on Canonization.

I don’t have any works specific to Mark alone but if you are interested in the NT as a whole then that or The Text of the New Testament by Kurt and Barbara Aland is also recommended.

Most of our current NT translations are based on Greek Critical additions (by Nestle-Aland) so this work is probably relevant.



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