The Shuffled Manuscript Theory

The Shuffled Manuscript Theory is a position I have held to since 1985, which has abundantly proven itself to be true by a preponderance of evidence contained in the New Testament itself. It has been said that if one is aware of what he is looking for, if it is there, he will find it. I needed to understand why there were erratic changes in context, and abrupt starts and stops, when reading certain documents in the New Testament. That was the motivating factor in this endeavor. For those who might object to this literary venture on the basis of their training or upbringing, I respectfully present the following information in favor of this point of view — which represents an invariably new paradigm shift — and I point to the results presented herein for proof and confirmation.

The Old Testament has a good record of preservation due to the meticulous efforts of the Jews, Talmudists and the Masoretes, but the New Testament apostolic documents did not enjoy this same effort at preservation until after the first generation of Christians had passed from the scene in death; even then such efforts left much to be desired. These documents suffered a first-generation state of deterioration which I will now attempt to make understood. Keep in mind that what I am about to propose is what happened before the solidification of our present day cannon of New Testament scripture — before the gathering of New Testament documents. With these things in mind, I would like to fully explain the paradigm shift as proposed in “The Shuffled Manuscript Theory.”

The original inspired autographs, what later became “The New Testament” when collated and collected into our canon, were hand-written on rolls of papyrus called scrolls. It is not unreasonable to assume, considering how manuscripts of the first century were made, that with age they would assume a state of deterioration common to those things that receive regular use, necessitating replacement in time, if that option were considered necessary by the possessor of each document.

In the first century manuscript scrolls were basically produced in three different sized sheets of papyrus, varying in price with the size, the most common size for the average man, because of its affordability, being five by eleven inches. These were sold in a roll of about twenty sheets pasted together in linear fashion edge to edge. When both written upon and read, the scroll would be unrolled from one hand and re-rolled into the other as it would go horizontally from sheet to sheet in a continuous fashion from right to left, much as a computer or word processor can “scroll” vertically today. This eliminated the necessity of having a long table for both the reading and writing of the scroll. This is quite different from the Chester Beatty Papyri manuscripts where in those we have a “recto” and “verso” (front and back).

Pages were generally not numbered because of their continuity in scroll fashion, and chapters and verses were not yet created and applied until around the year 1500, but depending upon the writer, most pages carried a certain number of large Greek Uncial characters, and a certain number of lines on each sheet — the columns being generally three inches wide with small margins (Uncial characters are large capital letters). A common example would be about 24 characters per line, with about 12 lines per page, with no spaces between words. Since there were no spaces between characters indicating the beginning and ending of a word, and the characters would follow one another line to line, many words would be split between lines. Sentences sometimes split to the next page. This is evident at 2nd Corinthians 7:13. It is also evident at 2nd Corinthians 6:13, where this verse matches up perfectly with 2nd Corinthians 7:2 which follows, when/after the foreign section, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-7:1, is removed.

The Greek text was written from left to right along the fibers in broader or narrower columns, the writing rolling up on the inside of the scroll, and the end of the text being rolled up last. In order to start reading a finished scroll, one would unroll and re-roll from hand to hand as he read, and then had to unroll and re-roll the whole book in the opposite direction when finished, thus creating a situation of double-handling. The consulting of another passage was far from easy, and regular use made considerable wear and tear unavoidable — especially with the brittle papyrus. Mark’s gospel would have been a scroll about nineteen feet long, and Romans about eleven and a half feet, while 2nd Thessalonians could possibly be written in a five column roll fifteen inches in length. They were written with a reed pen, with an ink made out of soot and gum, which was very legible — except when blotted or washed out for the re-use of the scroll. The scroll was then rolled, and some folded twice, then bound with thread and sealed.

Scrolls were generally saved in a box or chest with documents of similar character. With age and usage they would tend to come apart where the edges were pasted together in a linear, vertical fashion, because they were both brittle and could not endure much repeated handling. The separated leaves of the scrolls would end up being hopelessly shuffled out of order over time, making the manuscript unintelligible without some effort of re-assembly employed on the part of the owner or subsequent survivors possessing it. The folded type of manuscript would become frayed at the folds much like an old road map, and would be more likely to fragment with time. If a manuscript consisted of more than one roll it was likely to become separated or confused with some other work, especially if dealing with the same subject matter. One example of this is that one leaf from the 1st Corinthian epistle — (what we now call 2nd Corinthians 6:14-7:1) — became shuffled into the 2nd Corinthian epistle. Upon examination it cannot fit comfortably anywhere in 2nd Corinthians; but it fits perfectly after 1st Corinthians 3:16-17. Another section that does not fit is 2nd Corinthians 10:1-13:10. Second Corinthians is conciliatory, so this long rebuke does not fit in either. It originally belonged to 1st Corinthians. Chapter and verse numbers were added only around 500 years ago so they are not part of the inspired text.

Now early great works were mass-produced in large rooms with a caller, or reader, and many scribes, so there was not much chance that the order of a great work, like Homer, would be lost or confused; but these were mostly afforded by the rich, and libraries, and were replaced when the unavoidable wear and tear rendered them unusable.

However, the New Testament documents of persecuted Christians did not enjoy this luxury. Traditions were mostly orally transmitted, and many early sayings of Jesus were scrawled upon shards of pottery by those who heard him. A letter or gospel was considered to have served its purpose once written and sent, and was seldom if ever re-written by either the sender or the possessor of the work (unless directed to do so), whether lost, damaged, or worn out; and it is not likely that the writers of our New Testament were aware that what they were writing would become what we now call scripture, else they would have taken the pains necessary to ensure their work’s preservation. This is even more credible when one considers that Jesus himself left no writings at all, other than what he wrote in the sand.

Consider the mentality of the first century Christian before the Temple was razed — that the coming of the Lord for his Church was imminent — so that, in the beginning, very little was done to remedy those things which had fallen into disorder. Every New Testament document was subject to the same danger of disorder so long as it remained an only copy, and every New Testament document, with the exception of Romans, was an only copy in its first generation. I am even now thinking that a few epistles may have been unintentionally shuffled out of order once, later copied, and over time, unintentionally shuffled out of order again in the second generation copy, and copied again a third time, remaining in that condition ever since, thus accounting for the location of the sayings, “Now I have applied these things to myself and Apollos…” and “ Let no one delude himself. If any one among you all is aspiring to be learned and intelligent in this age, let him become a fool, so that he may become learned and intelligent.” So, we do not have three Corinthians epistles, as most scholars think, but only two — all mixed up together — for there are only two introductions and two endings, though one epistle prior to 1st Corinthians that we do not have is alluded to.

Now with the passage of time, and the passage of the apostles, and the passage of the Temple, and the apparent delay of our Lord’s second coming, second generation Christians became aware of the necessity of preserving, recording, and duplicating the writings and sayings of the apostles and their disciples for successive generations of Christians — mainly for their instruction and edification. Thus a proliferation of literary reproduction ensued, along with the transcription of apostolic and disciplic works, which were garnered out of storage, not yet reverenced as scripture, but soon to become so by the Church.

A gathering of the first generation apostolic works was made from the various assemblies, and an attempt at restoration followed. They had single leaves, and at times intervals of two, three, or even four or more leaves, which in many cases had been stuffed and rolled together out of order over time; and with both the original writers and recipients gone, they had to make the best of what they found. In order to reproduce these works, they, of necessity, had to be restored to some kind of relative order so that they would be intelligible to the reader; and this was done to the best of the ability of those doing the work, having no page numbers, nor chapter and verse indications, and no cross-referencing aids.

Thus copied in this way, these documents have remained in that state without any consideration having been made since then, as to how to better or further their restoration toward their approximate original form as they had left the hands of the apostles — probably due to an inordinate sense of reverence in the later organized Church for these apostolic documents (book-worship); and they have been perpetuated as they are to date, how be it ever obvious to the eye and ear when read, and even the sense conveyed to the mind, that something is amiss, which shows itself even in their many translations.

For example, take the Gospel of Mark, and consider its lost ending from chapter 16 verse 9 to the end: surely some well-meaning individual sought to replace what was a missing portion with something at a later date so that it would be, in his opinion, complete. This is obvious by the extant ending choices available. But what was missing was most likely the last outer cover-leaf of the scroll, which had been exposed to all the wear and tear of repeated handling as disciples sought to become better acquainted with their Lord through that Gospel. But obviously, human-inspired scripture produces spiritual errors such as snake handlers getting bit and dying as they tempt the grace of the Lord their God. Wisdom would avoid snakes when possible. Paul’s snake bite was accidental. The epistle of Paul to the Galatians is our control sample of an early scroll which had escaped the fate of what could now safely be called unintentional “loose-leaf” shuffling. It is intact today probably because it was immediately copied and passed on to other local assemblies in Galatia.

Again, if one is aware of what he is looking for, if it is there, he will find it. That was how I was able to confirm my suspicions in this endeavor. As is evident in, let us say, 1st Corinthians — one of our examples of a shuffled letter — when one reads the New Testament — especially in a modern translation — one becomes aware of the abrupt changes in thought and context — almost erratic in occurrence — and later, a resumption of the same train of thought in another place irrelevant to the surrounding context in which it also is found. It becomes obvious to the objective reader that the pieces of each epistle could theoretically be taken apart and reassembled — like the pieces of a literary jig-saw puzzle — in a more sensible order than in which they now appear. But what was necessary was some controlling criteria that would remove some of the subjectivity in the decision-making process.

This was found in the Greek texts of the various scholars who work in the field of textual criticism, providing texts for the use of translators. Preserved for all time, in each of the various texts to choose from, are the indentations necessary for determining where a segment of text begins and ends. (The existing indentations are preserved and displayed in this translation whenever possible if it does not hurt the read.) Some of the indentations are obviously paragraph separations, but others indicated where there were breaks in the text, obviously preserved by the initial editors for the determination of future generations. Example: again, when one removes 2nd Corinthians 6:14-7:1 from its place, it is joyfully obvious that the end of the section preceding it, and the start of the section following it, match up perfectly, because the sentence was originally across the two separated leaves where the foreign insertion was later put, thus splitting it in two. The removed passage is altogether totally alien to 2nd Corinthians. James and 1st John are the only exceptions to this rule. They must have been recopied without preserving all the gaps where the breaks in the scrolls occurred — James most likely more than twice.

The Greek texts that were utilized to determine the indentation sequences for this work are the 1976 Trinitarian Textus Receptus, the Majority Greek Text, and the UBS4/NA27. These three texts were derived from the myriad of manuscripts available for research in the preparation of Greek texts for scholarly study and translation. The older Textus Receptus text was made of a mere few manuscripts out of the 3074 supporting the better Majority Text of the Byzantine tradition, and the UBS4/NA27 was made of about 45 manuscripts of the Alexandrian tradition. Where one text neglected to supply a suspected gap in the text, the others supplied it. Since all types of scholars did research in the supporting manuscripts at different times, one text was considered as valid as the other for this purpose, even if the text itself was not one which was supported by the preponderance of evidences available. Using the discovered indentations, I was able to rearrange the text according to subject matter, mood, language, inflection, and contextual comparison, bringing to light for the second time in almost two thousand years, the writings of the apostles as I believe they were originally written in all of their beauty, inspiration, and intelligence — no verses missing — but all the pieces of the puzzle fitting together in harmony with nothing left over.

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