NEW ORLEANS — A unique electronic database amassing a wealth of
information for scholars regarding ancient biblical manuscripts is emerging
from nine years of painstaking research at New Orleans Baptist Theological
The database can play a key role in upholding the Bible’s authority, noted Bill
Warren, director of the seminary’s H. Milton Haggard Center for New Testament
Textual Studies (CNTTS).
A video explanation of the database — called the Center for New Testament
Textual Studies (CNTTS) NT Critical Apparatus — can be accessed on the seminary’s
It is available with Accordance Bible Software and is coming soon to BibleWorks
By definition, a “critical apparatus” is a collection of notes identifying the
variant readings found among Greek New Testament manuscripts. Over the
centuries, these variations occurred as scribes created handwritten copies of
the New Testament.
Examples of the types include spelling differences; the
reverential abbreviations of sacred names; and the addition of details that can
clarify the meaning of the text.
By consulting ancient documents, biblical scholars seek to provide a Greek New
Testament text as close to the original as possible. Thus the CNTTS apparatus
is an important complement to the standard Greek text. In chronicling
information about the consulted manuscripts, it can show why a particular
reading was favored over others, Warren noted, and it can help scholars
understand how the biblical text was preserved and passed down through hundreds
The highly searchable CNTTS apparatus developed by Warren, NOBTS students and
visiting scholars is the most detailed and comprehensive electronic critical
apparatus on the market. An electronic innovation with nearly 17,000 pages of
compiled data, the project simply would not be feasible in a printed format.
The CNTTS includes 10 times as much data as the critical apparatus printed in
the United Bible Societies’ editions of the Greek New Testament.
“This is a first in the field, both as a comprehensive, electronic apparatus
and in terms of how searchable it is,” Warren said.
The software includes detailed information about each verse in the manuscripts
the CNTTS has examined, including dates, contents, characteristics and variants.
The software also allows users to search and compare multiple texts to the
current Greek New Testament. A graphing feature helps users compare manuscript
The center’s unique research is yielding expanded detail and new information;
many of its findings have never been published before in any format.
“We give all the variants, major or not, and then we classify them as to what
types of variants they are,” Warren said. “The big difference on this is that
we actually classify (the differences) for people.”
The CNTTS apparatus identifies every textual variation found in hundreds of
ancient biblical manuscripts, and the center is continuing to expand the
project by researching more manuscripts. The CNTTS team currently is studying
ancient papyri of Acts as well as several other manuscripts.
Today, many authors and skeptics travel the country arguing that the New
Testament cannot be trusted. They often point to the sheer volume of variants
to undermine the authority of the biblical text, giving very little attention
to the nature and purpose of many of the variants in question.
On the other hand, the CNTTS staff looks at every variant in the text and seeks
to classify even the smallest differences such as variations in spelling and
abbreviations of sacred names.
Rather than eroding confidence in the biblical text, Warren believes the center
is showing that the New Testament text is worthy of trust. Through the
research, Warren has developed a theory as to why many of the variants exist.
Many of the additions found in ancient manuscripts were simply designed to
explain the text, he noted. In some cases, when the original text attributed
something to “the prophet,” scribes inserted the name of the prophet to help
the readers and hearers understand the reference.
Warren compared these notes to the notes in a modern-day study Bible. “The
scribe wants to make sure nobody misunderstands which prophet,” Warren said, “so
the scribe puts the ‘study Bible’ note in the text.”
Developing the electronic apparatus involves a tedious process of researching
and comparing a Greek manuscript to the Greek New Testament, thereby creating
what is called a “collation.” To collate a manuscript, a CNTTS researcher
starts with a copy of an ancient NT manuscript, usually a digital image or a
microfilm, and a printout of the current edition of the UBS Greek New
The researcher checks line by line, word by word, and even letter by letter,
for even the slightest differences. The differences are noted on the printout
of the Greek New Testament. Another researcher repeats this process, and then
the two collations are compared and reconciled to ensure the best results.
The process is long and requires a high level of skill, not only in reading
ancient Greek but also in deciphering ancient handwriting and common
abbreviations for divine names.
It takes a researcher on average 40-60 hours to
work through one ancient manuscript of John; Luke, with its longer text,
requires 70-100 hours. So for John, for example, the CNTTS staff invests
100-160 hours of work to create a final collation (collated twice and
reconciled) for use in the database.
“The Gospels have more variations than any of the other books simply because
they were the most used and the most copied,” Warren said. “We have more
manuscripts of the Gospels than of the other books” of the New Testament.
The researchers keep all of these notated printouts in an archive in case they
need to refer back to their original work.
The difficulty of the collation task is multiplied when only a low-quality
manuscript copy is available. However, the CNTTS has developed a strategic
partnership with Daniel Wallace, director of the Center for the Study of New
Testament Manuscripts and a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Wallace
visits churches, libraries and museums around the world taking high-quality
digital photographs of ancient New Testament manuscripts.
The center in Dallas focuses primarily on manuscript digitization through
photography while the New Orleans center concentrates on the collation and
study of the text. Together, the two research centers are leading contributors
to biblical research in the digital age.
“We are up to about 800 manuscripts that we can access on-site,” Warren said. “We
don’t have them all worked through, but at least we are working to study all of
Very few universities in the United States, and even fewer seminaries, are
attempting the type of research that is being done by highly skilled students
in the master’s and doctoral programs at NOBTS.
“We are among the top U.S. institutions working with the manuscripts,” Warren
The other top manuscript research universities, including Duke, Michigan,
Penn State and Yale, read like a “Who’s Who” of academic giants.
In addition to the ongoing collation work, the CNTTS staff is working on
several future projects including iPhone and iPad applications for their field.
Warren has also started a multi-year project to construct a New Testament
commentary based on the variant readings the center has carefully studied.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary.)