There is No “Alexandrian” Text Family


One of the greatest challenges to overcome when discussing textual criticism with the average Christian is breaking through the wall of misconceptions regarding the topic. My personal theory is that if those in the Modern Critical Text had more information, they likely would not support the ongoing efforts of textual scholars. One of the most powerful claims that a Critical Text advocate will make is that their text is based off of the “earliest and best” manuscripts. It is the kind of jargon that is located in the footnotes of study bibles that compels people to believe that they have a high quality product in their hands.

One of arguments used to support the claim that modern bibles are based on “better” manuscripts is that they come from a textual family or group that is earlier than the text family that Reformation era Bibles were made from. So the argument for the Modern Critical Text is that it is made from manuscripts that represent an earlier form of the text closer to the original than later manuscripts. There is a major problem with this assertion – these early manuscripts differ so greatly from one another that even the scholars admit they are not a part of a manuscript family. What this practically means is there is no way to substantiate that the Modern Critical Text represents a uniform version of the text that can be traced back to some authorial manuscript group. This seems to be evidence strong enough to pump the breaks on the whole Critical Text machine, but as we see it still charges forward.

The Scholarly Perspective on Text Types Has Changed

Formerly, the idea of “text types” was a major engine for the inner workings of textual criticism and scholarship. The way that variants would be assigned value was in large part based on this text-type formulation.

“The Alexandrian is typically considered the most reliable text-type, with the Western, Caesarean, and Byzantine generally following in that order”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 8.

“If one reads Bruce Metzger’s well-known commentary that accompanies the UBS, the notion of text-types is absolutely essential to his explanation of the history of the New Testament text and, with it, to the practice of textual criticism itself”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 8.

This foundational way of thinking has shifted in the last ten years to acknowledge that the concept of textual families, at least as it applies to the Alexandrian, Caesarean, and Western text-types, is not supported by the data. While the concept of text-types has been retired, the Byzantine texts have been retained as a group.

“One exception here is that the editors still recognize the Byzantine text as a distinct text in its own right. This is due to the remarkable agreement that one finds in our late Byzantine manuscripts.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 9.

Now this is usually dismissed because, as the quoted material notes, these manuscripts are “late.” Yet it is acknowledged by all that the age of the paper a text is printed on does not necessarily speak to the age of the words on that paper. Due to the same data analysis that demonstrated that the Alexandrian text-type was not in fact a text type, scholars have acknowledged that the Byzantine family is quite old. This is also evidenced by the fact that Byzantine readings were found in the Papyri.

“As just noted, the editors still accept a Byzantine group even if they do not view it as a traditional text-type. In fact, they do much more than merely accept it; they have reevaluated it and concluded that it should be given more weight than in the past.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 10.

“But when the CBGM was first used on the Catholic Letters, the editors found that a number of Byzantine witnesses were surprisingly similar to their own reconstructed text.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 10.

“There were fifty-two changes to the critical text. In thirty-six cases the changes were made in conformity with the Byzantine text and in only two cases against the Byzantine text. Further, in 105 of 155 passages where the editors leave the decision open about the initial text, the Byzantine witnesses attest to the reading deemed to be of equal value to variant a (=NA28).”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 11.

What this is saying is that not only were Westcott and Hort wrong, but so was Metzger. When computer based analysis is applied, the Byzantine text gains a great deal of value, even when only considering the first 1,000 years of textual data.

What Does This Mean for the “Earliest and Best” Manuscripts?

In abandoning the former framework of text-types, the value of the Byzantine group has been elevated in many places to equal or even above the formerly titled Alexandrian text-type. This is interesting, but not as much as what the same analysis revealed about the quality of the so-called Alexandrian family. When the witnesses in the Alexandrian family are compared using computer tools, they share a very low level of agreement in the places of variation. For example, Codex Sinaiticus’ closest relative in the synoptic gospels is the NA28, not any known manuscript. Vaticanus comes in second.

“Sinaiticus’s closest relative is A, the editor’s reconstructed text (i.e., the NA28/UBS5 text. These two agree at 87.9 percent. Next in line is 03, with 84.9 percent, and so on.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 46.

Interestingly enough, if you go to the manuscript clusters tool today, 01 and 03 only agree 65% in the same tool provided in the quoted material above. What that seems to demonstrate is that the NA28 is the closest relative to both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus by a very large margin, even more than Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are relatives to each other.

If we use this tool on both the synoptic gospels and on John, we find that there aren’t any witnesses used in this analysis that are coherent enough to warrant any sort of direct genealogical connection. In short, the NA28 is the closest related text to Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Out of the thousands and thousands of manuscripts often cited in debates to support the Critical Text, the closest living relative to the “earliest and best” manuscripts is the scholar’s own reconstructed text.

How could it be then, that this is still the prevailing theory among Critical Text advocates? Does this not warrant a significant departure from favoring the “earliest and best” manuscripts? Well, no, because according to the scholars, there are no absolute rules to textual criticism.

“As with so much in textual criticism, there are no absolute rules here, and experience serves as the best guide.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 57.

“The significance of this selectivity of our evidence means that our textual flow diagrams and the global stemma do not give us a picture of exactly what happened.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 113.

“However, there are still cases where contamination can go undetected in the CBGM, with the result that the proper ancestor-descendent relationships are inverted.”

Peter Gurry & Tommy Wasserman. A New Approach to Textual Criticism. 115.


The scholarly assessment of text-types and the new methods being employed to create modern bibles should tell us a few things. First, it should tell us that the previous era of scholars such as Westcott, Hort, and Metzger were incorrect in their conclusions. Second, it should tell us that the scholars that came after don’t share the same confidence in the CBGM to find the original as perhaps James White. Third, it should tell us that anybody still using text-types and Alexandrian priority to argue for the validity of textual variants are severely behind the times. Not only have the scholars abandoned such notions, but the data simply does not support the conclusion that the Alexandrian texts are better than later manuscripts. Since the closest relative to such manuscripts is the text that scholars themselves have created, the data does not appear to be the driving factor for this camp. The driving factor seems to be the notion that Vaticanus must be the best because it is the earliest surviving manuscript we have.

The Received Text position is not one that attempts to reconstruct the original from extant data because it recognizes a) that the Bible never fell away and therefore does not need to be reconstructed and b) that the data is insufficient to do so. Even so, we can look at the scholar’s own analysis and see quite plainly that even their conclusions are established on a thin layer of presuppositions that are not supported by the data. This data, by the way, is the very same that is the foundation for the footnotes, brackets, and removed words and passages from modern bibles. The Received Text crowd has already rejected such a practice, but the Modern Critical Text camp embraces it with open arms.

The texts that serve as a foundation for modern bibles are not a text-family. They have no widespread attestation in the manuscript tradition. Since this is the case, what are we doing using them to make modern bibles? Is this all it takes for the church to toss out passages such as Mark 16:9-20? The burden of proof is set remarkably low for a passage to be thrown out of the bible as inauthentic. It seems rash that this is all it would take for a Christian to believe that a passage should be stripped from the text of Scripture, and yet here we are. As I often say, if the average Modern Critical Text advocate simply listened to their own scholars, they might express the same concerns as the Received Text crowd. It takes a strong tradition and a priori belief to discover that the foundational principle is incorrect and still believe the outcome of that principle to be true.

Two Different Texts


In my articles, I frequently comment that the Modern Critical Text and the Traditional Text represent two different forms of the text of the New Testament. Some disagree, and use this website to demonstrate that they are not that different. The site is helpful as a comparative tool between the ESV and KJV, though it is not technically a comparison of the Critical Text and Traditional Text. First, it is a comparison of translations, which means it is not comparing Greek texts, but translations of those texts. So while it gives the reader a general idea of the differences, translational choices may obscure the actual differences between the two underlying texts. Second, it does not fully compare the Critical Text and the Traditional Text as it includes comparisons of passages in a way that downplays the differences. An example would be that the comparative tool includes the Pericope Adulterae in the Critical Text, as well as excludes the Longer Ending of Mark in both texts. This gives the average reader the impression that there are really no differences. A full comparison would include the verses in the TR up to verse 20 in Mark, and exclude John 7:53-8:11 from the Critical Text. I would expect that the tool would include these differences, as well as clarify that it is a comparison between two translations and not between the TR and CT. 

Are We Discussing Two Different Text Forms?

The exclusion of certain verses for comparison highlights an important fact: in order to say that the Modern Critical Text and Traditional Text are essentially the same, one must ignore or downplay the fact that they are not the same in certain important places. It is because of these important places that there is disagreement at all. If the differences were that minor, we would be having a conversation over translation methodology and that’s about as deep as it would go. That is not to say that somebody cannot be saved by reading a Bible translated from the Modern Critical Text, but a careful examination of the two underlying texts reveals that they are different. One can argue how significant these differences are, but the fact remains, there are differences which distinguish the two texts. 

That being said, from a certain perspective, modern Bibles and traditional Bibles are both Bibles. They both contain the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, and they mostly contain the same content. Thus the important conversation should be centered around two topics – the difference between underlying texts and translation methodology. In creating a comparison tool that is supposed to compare the TR and the CT, and then using translations of these texts as a point of comparison, the two categories of text and translation are blended. It is interesting to say that the two texts are essentially the same, because if that were the case I’m not sure anybody would be seriously having this discussion at all. It is because  these two texts are so different that there is even a conversation. The existence of these two opposing positions on the text of the New Testament refutes the idea that the texts are the same. 

I am not saying that sound doctrine cannot be taught from a modern Bible such as the ESV or NASB, just that the underlying texts of modern Bibles are different than that of traditional Bibles such as the KJV. Many sound Biblical teachers employ modern Bibles in their ministry and are not heretics. The problem is that the standard for judging a Bible has been set at “can sound doctrine be taught from it?” If this was the standard, we would have to throw out every Bible, because false doctrine is readily taught from all translations. This standard is somewhat arbitrary and obfuscates the point of the discussion entirely. An orthodox understanding of the Trinity can be brought out of the New World Translation (in fact this is a great apologetic tool), but that doesn’t mean that Protestants should read the New World Bible. Thus, the standard of, “Can all the doctrines be proved from this translation?” is not a meaningful standard for determining the quality of a text or translation. Thus the conversation is rightfully seated in discussing the authenticity of the underlying texts used for translation.      

Two Different Text Forms

If the Modern Critical Text and Traditional Text were really as similar as is claimed, then there would be no discussion at all. It would be as simple as answering the question, “which Bible is the best translation of the Greek?” It would simply be a conversation over vocabulary choices and whether or not formal (KJV, NASB, ESV) or dynamic (NIV) equivalence is better. In admitting that there is indeed a difference, the conversation of determining how significant those differences are can take place in a productive manner. That being said, what about these two texts makes them “two different text forms?”

The primary difference has to do with the actual Greek manuscripts, not a difference between the translational choices of the KJV and ESV. The Modern Critical Text in its popular printed form (NA/UBS) is based largely on Codex Vaticanus, a fourth century Uncial Manuscript which is stored at the Vatican. All of the major differences can generally be found within this manuscript or Codex Sinaiticus. These are the two manuscripts referred to in modern Bibles as “earliest and best”. The Vatican Codex was first made use of in text critical efforts when Desidarius Erasmus consulted it in his production of his Greek and Latin New Testaments. Erasmus rejected the readings, however, claiming that they seemed to be back translations of corrupted Latin versional readings rather than being copied from a Greek manuscript. Frederick Nolan, a 19th century theologian and linguist, writes this regarding Erasmus and the Vatican Codex.

“With respect to Manuscripts, it is indisputable that he [Erasmus] was acquainted with every variety which is known to us; having distributed them into two principal classes, one of which corresponds with the Complutensian edition, the other with the Vatican manuscript. And he has specified the positive grounds on which he received the one and rejected the other” (Nolan, Frederick.  An Inquiry into the Integrity of the Greek Vulgate, or Received Text of the New Testament. 413, 414). 

Nolan also says regarding the Vatican Codex, ““The affinity existing between the Vatican manuscript and the Vulgate is so striking, as to have induced Dr. Bentley and M. Westein to class them together” (Ibid. 61).  

The first major use of this manuscript in the modern period was by Westcott and Hort, who primarily employed Vaticanus and Sinaiticus as a base text to produce their Greek New Testament in 1881. This is the text that the American Standard Version was translated from, which eventually gave birth to the Revised Standard Version and finally the English Standard Version. These manuscripts would eventually be classified as Alexandrian, based on the region in Egypt where they are thought to have originated (though recent scholarship has revisited this idea). Out of the close to 6,000 manuscripts available today, these Alexandrian manuscripts represent less than fifty. The vast majority of manuscripts represent a different text form, traditionally called the Byzantine Text Platform. The Textus Receptus follows the Byzantine text more closely than the Alexandrian text. So while one might make a case that the Alexandrian and Byzantine Texts are similar enough to both be considered a form of the Bible, these texts are distinct enough to be identified as separate classes of manuscripts, and thus different forms of Bibles. 

Even if one were to make a case that the Alexandrian Texts and Byzantine Texts were “close enough”, two major points of comparison stands between them that sets them apart entirely – the Longer Ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) and The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11). That is a total of 23 verses that are simply missing from the Alexandrian texts in two places that are present in the Byzantine texts. Even if one believes the modern claim that the Alexandrian texts are “earliest and best”, it does not follow to say that these are the same text form. These texts also exclude John 5:4, Romans 16:24, and others. Total, there are enough texts different to exceed the number of verses in the entire book of Jude. If these are so similar, I do not see a reason that the Alexandrian texts have been classed in a different category than the majority of manuscripts. 


The goal of this article is to support the claim that the Modern Critical Text and the Traditional Text are indeed two forms of the New Testament. They may both be considered a New Testament, but they certainly are not the same New Testament. The Modern Critical Text does not include an appearance account in all four Gospels, and is missing a number of verses when compared to the majority of manuscripts. Additionally, the Modern Critical Text represents a handful of manuscripts which were produced around the third and fourth centuries, and do not appear to be copied after that point in time. 

There are two major schools of thought as to what these Alexandrian Texts are to the greater manuscript tradition. In the Modern Critical school of thought, they are the earliest texts that the rest of the manuscripts evolved from. In the Confessional Text school of thought, they are an aberrant text stream that was not copied past the fourth century. These two forms may have spawned at the beginning of the same river, but by the third and fourth century they split and headed in different directions. The Alexandrian split seems to have met its end shortly after that split, if the thousands of manuscripts available today are any indication. That is why focusing on translational differences between the KJV and ESV is not the primary concern for those who reject modern Bibles. If the Alexandrian form of the text is truly an aberrant stream, then the Modern Critical Text is not truly the “earliest and best”, it is a strange blip which disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Hopefully this sheds light on why those in the Confessional Text camp do not read modern Bibles. Translation methodology certainly has a role in the discussion, but a primary reason for siding with traditional Bibles has to do with the rejection of the texts modern Bibles use in translation.