DTS Magazine

It’s All Greek to Me

Dr. Dan Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies, created the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts for many reasons:

To take or acquire high-resolution, digital photographs of all Greek New Testament manuscripts in the world. “There are about 5,600 known manuscripts. We have 2.3 million photographs to take of the known manuscripts. But we have already discovered more and have leads on 150–200 others.” Each trip—four people for three and a half weeks—costs about $25,000 and can yield photographs of thirty to fifty manuscripts. The urgency stems from the danger of losing manuscripts to terrorism, thieves, fires, or floods. Microfilm from earlier efforts is deteriorating. “With proper funding, we could get the photographing done in ten years.”

To develop Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for deciphering the data. The same computer ability that scans a document and turns it into English letters can be “taught” to recognize ancient Greek characters. A group in Athens is working with the Center to perfect OCR for Koine Greek.

To analyze all the Greek New Testaments. This process, known as collating, compares every known manuscript and lists each variation in the text. Today, at most, only twenty percent of manuscripts have been collated. Humans painstakingly study poor-quality microfilm at a snail’s pace. The only book that has been completely done took the scholar thirty years. And he chose the book of Revelation because it has the fewest manuscripts. We have ten times as many manuscripts of the Gospels. With high-resolution digital photographs and scanners using OCR, machines could collate all the manuscripts. What would now take several lifetimes, could be done in a month.

To analyze the data. Then expert “textual critics” such as Dan Wallace could scrutinize the transmission of the text and declare what the original wording was in a particular place. “Although we say we know what the text says, there is about one percent of which we are not sure. That may not seem like a lot, but if this is the Word of God, we need to be concerned about every word.”

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