Dating new testament letters
The most important tools for textual critics are the manuscripts themselves.In the sixteenth century the Greek New Testament was published for the first time in printed form.Tischendorf himself and the British scholars Westcott and Hort produced two rival editions of the Greek text.They believed that their text reflected the original as well as possible, even if it was based on manuscripts dating from at least three centuries after the New Testament was written.These manuscripts dated from the fourth and fifth centuries and presented a text that was at least free from the accretions of a later age.We had to wait, however, until the 70's and 80's of the nineteenth century for new critical editions of the New Testament.
These manuscripts are of a special class for two reasons.
Gradually the new critical texts replaced Erasmus' text, which has not received much attention from serious scholars anymore.
Thousands more ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament have become known in the past 100 years.
Or look at your own scribblings of a few years ago. With the help of the earlier papyrus manuscripts we have been able to establish that the text of these three great manuscripts is to a large extent reliable. P46 is a case in point: it is the manuscript with the largest percentage of blunders on record!
It is the same handwriting as today but an expert, a paleographer, can distinguish not unimportant differences. The papyrus manuscript P75 was the latest to be published, but it showed a virtually identical text to manuscript B. Most of this kind of errors can, however, be removed by comparing the readings of the oldest manuscripts.