Greek Bible showing apparatus.

Understanding the Apparatus of the Greek New Testament


An interesting fact: When there were printing presses in the past, the printers used to keep capital letters separately to cursive letters, in cases. The capital letters were usually stored in a case above the cursive letters, and hence they became known as ‘upper case letters.’ Did you know that? I didn’t! It is one of the interesting (but irrelevant) snippets I discovered whilst trying to unravel the apparatus part of my Greek New Testament. (An apparatus is like the key on a map, it gives extra information.)

As part of my course, I was given a copy of the Greek New Testament. It has—as you would expect—the words of the New Testament books written in Greek. It also has, on each page, some tiny writing and symbols in the apparatus. To be honest, I have pretty much tried to ignore this (don’t tell anyone) but as my exam is looming, I realised that I needed to tackle it. What do all those symbols mean, and why do I need to look at them? As a way to help me learn them, I will explain what I have learnt so far.

As I think I told you previously, there is no existing copy of the original New Testament books. What we have are various manuscripts that have been found and translated, and put together to form what we think of as the New Testament. These manuscripts and documents make up the evidence for what was originally written, but they are not identical because they were written at a time when copying was all done by hand. Sometimes the scribes copying the manuscripts corrected the grammar, or added notes in the margin that were later copied as part of the main body of writing. Sometimes they made mistakes, or changed things to suit their own theology. Translators must make decisions, based on these pieces of evidence, as to what should be included.

The copy I have been given allows me to make some choices myself. It has not included every piece of evidence that was ever found, because that would make the book run to many volumes and I would never manage to wade through it all. It has therefore referenced the most important documents, and noted which are the more reliable ones. I can therefore look at the differences (which tend to be very minor, such as whether it should read: ‘he did this sign’ or ‘Jesus did this sign’ or ‘this sign was done.’) My NT has helpful symbols, and tells me what most scholars conclude. An ‘A’ in brackets means they are virtually certain that this is close to the original text, and a ‘D’ means they couldn’t agree. It is of course relative to the documents that have been found at this point (because they might find something older/more reliable) and I have no idea whether ‘A’ means most scholars agree, or whether the most qualified ones agree. (No reason to trust something simply because someone—who you don’t know—tells you it’s correct.) It reminds me of when a pupil at school did something bad, and we were trying to discover who the culprit was– did we trust the majority of the boys, who all said it was X, or did we trust the most reliable boy because he tended to be truthful, or did we listen to the small group who claimed to be eye-witnesses?

In about the 4th century, a version of the NT was produced that took the majority of the documents that were the same. This is known as the ‘Majority Text’ or the ‘Byzantine Text.’ It contains the majority of Greek texts that were available (hence the name majority text). It was the basis for the King James Version of the Bible.

However, since then, more and more manuscripts have been found, many of them much older than the Byzantine texts. Large codices were found, like Codex Sinaiticus. (‘Codex’ is just a fancy name for a collection of manuscripts that hasn’t been bound.) They sometimes differed from the majority texts, and so new translations began to appear. The potentially less reliable texts were moved down into the footnotes, so people could read and compare them. The manuscripts were given names, and these names were then represented by symbols (to take up less space in the apparatus).

Papyrus fragments are denoted by a curly P and a number. Papyri 45, 46, 66, 72 and 75 are the most important.

For example, P45 is from the 3rd century (probably written in about 250 AD, in Egypt so I think is one of our oldest manuscripts) and contains more than one New Testament text (which is unusual for 3rd century manuscripts). It is very concise, as the scribe took out lots of the adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and participles, but he didn’t add anything. It is a manuscript with no ‘fluff’ (which makes me wonder if the scribe was a bit grumpy and austere). However, writing equipment was expensive, and a scribe was paid per line of writing, so maybe he was trying to include as much as possible within a certain price. (I enjoy guessing these things, but I think I am supposed to stick to the facts in an exam.)

Papyrus 45 is badly damaged, and has lots of gaps (called ‘lacunae’).

Papyrus 45, kept mostly in Dublin with a small part in Vienna

The Codex Sinaiticus was shown by an aleph (The Hebrew letter ‘a’) which looks like a curly N.  Important manuscripts include: Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and until Sinaiticus was found, Vaticanus was thought to be most important. They were written in upright block letters on parchment (these documents are called majuscules). They appear in the apparatus as capital letters, or numbers beginning with 0.

There are also manuscripts written in miniscule. This simply means lower-case, or cursive, letters. The miniscule manuscripts were written later than the majuscule (capital letters) documents and were gathered together into families of similar texts. They are shown in the apparatus byƒ and a number.

Next are listed the lectionaries, shown by an ‘l.’ These are the lessons read in churches, and hence the name as they would be rested on the reading desk, or ‘lectern.’ Old manuscripts written in Latin are identified by ‘it’ which stands for Itala (they spoke Latin in Italy, so that’s easy to remember!)

The church fathers also left documents that are used to verify the texts. People like Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret (those names create wonderful images of stooped men in robes writing with a quill).

If documents have been corrected, the uncorrected document is marked with a * and the corrected copy appears with a tiny number next to the letter. If you look at the photo, you can see this with C* and D*. There will be a corresponding letter with a tiny number (the corrected version) and it took me longer than you might think to realise that these might be on the next page!

Greek Bible showing apparatus.
Greek New Testament with apparatus.

In fact, lots about understanding the apparatus has taken me longer than you might think. I feel that I am beginning to understand the bare minimum, but it feels like a physics lesson in my teenage years, when I sort of understood some of it but I hoped and prayed the teacher would never ask me to explain how I had reached my conclusions! Hoping to learn a little more by the end of the month (otherwise I shall have to wing it, which never worked out too well in the past).

Thanks for reading (and if you know more than me, do send help quickly).

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
Thank you for reading anneethompson.com Why not sign up to follow my blog?

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