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A revised version of a text; particularly editions based on critical comparison of sources. In biblical scholarship the term used to designate families of mss. that display similar traits.

The technology of copying texts by hand invites mutation from the prototype at just about any point. Significant scribal changes include:

  • misspellings
  • grammatical corrections
  • substituted wording
  • repeated phrases or clauses
  • omitted words & passages
  • interpolated material
  • altered sequence

Once a mutation is introduced in a text, it tends to be reproduced in later copies. Thus, by comparing mss. & studying their patterns of variation, textual critics are able to group them into general types & subtypes, and even retrace their relationship.

In the early 18th c. J. A. Bengel began the modern scientific study of Greek NT recensions by identifying two distinct patterns: the "Asian" (Byzantine) & the "African." The Byzantine text was the version used by the Orthodox church centered at Constantinople. The African text represented variant readings in mss. from Egypt & further west in north Africa.

A generation later J. J. Griesbach isolated traits that justified division of Bengel's African group into two distinct recensions: the "Alexandrine" & the "Western." Because the western text contained many non-standard readings that later scribes corrected, Griesbach regarded it as older than the Alexandrine. Since Griesbach, however, earlier mss. of the Alexandrine type, such as codex Vaticanus, have been discovered.

The 19th c. British scholars, B.F. Westcott & F. J. A. Hort, isolated a fourth major recension, which favored longer readings in a number of passages. This was dubbed the "Syrian" text.

Later, a German scholar, H. von Soden, developed a symbolic code for three recensions:

  • H: Hesychian ( = Alexandrine or Egyptian)
  • I : Jerusalemite ( = Syrian)
  • K: koiné ( = Byzantine)

The first & third letters are still used to refer to readings characteristic of those recensions in the scholarly apparatus of 20th c. editions of the Greek NT. Since von Soden's texts were originally published in German, the symbols H  (Egyptian) & K (Byzantine) are generally printed in classic Gothic script, as and .

[For details see M. M. Parvis' article "Text, NT" in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible vol. 4 (NY/Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), pp. 594-614].

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last revised 11 November 2020

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