Ancient Manuscripts of the Bible

The word "manuscript," as used here, means an ancient hand-written copy of any of the books of any of the Bibles or a text composed of a combination of one or more books.  The ancient manuscripts may have been written in any of the following languages: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, or Coptic.  The manuscripts are divided into two categories: papyrus and vellum.

Papyrus Manuscripts

Papyrus manuscripts are made of strips of pith taken from the stem of papyrus, the Egyptian water-plant.  Papyrus is very fragile and becomes brittle in air.  Over time these manuscripts crumbled with use and could not resist the damage caused by moisture.  Therefore, the majority of surviving papyrus have been discovered in very dry locations, like those of Upper and Middle Egypt.  Papyrus was the common writing material of the Roman Empire.

Vellum Manuscripts

Papyrus scrolls were used in Egypt until after the eighth century AD.  Vellum had been used before the time of Jesus, but in the third century it began to gain more popularity than papyrus.  In the early part of the fourth century vellum and the codex (book-form vs scroll), gained complete victory over papyrus and the roll-form.  Roman Emperor Constantine ordered Eusebius to have fifty manuscripts of the Bible made on vellum for use in the churches of Byzantium.  Vellum was a much more durable material than papyrus, therefore, our greatest collection of  the earliest extant Biblical manuscripts of anything but fragmentary size were copied in the fourth century AD.

Some of the most important vellum manuscripts are called "palimpsests," which means "scraped again."  These are manuscripts that were long ago scraped a second time with pumice-stone (erased) so that another message could be written.  Using modern technology we can now retrieve the original message in many cases. 

Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament
Second Through the Tenth Centuries CE

Major New Testament Manuscripts
& % of Verses With Differences



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