Re: all punctuation secondary, part 2

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Mon Apr 06 1998 - 12:33:40 EDT

Micheal Palmer wrote:
>At 1:54 PM -0600 4/3/98, Perry L. Stepp wrote:
>>3. Can we categorically state that there was no punctuation in the
>>earliest texts of the NT? The fact that papyri copied under certain
>>circumstances for certain purposes don't consistently or frequently use
>>punctuation doesn't add up to "no punctuation in the earliest texts of the
>No. We cannot CATEGORICALLY state that there was NO punctuation in the
>earliest texts of the NT (even though this statement is made in one form or
>another in most introductory works on textual criticism, and it is probably
>true of the original texts--texts which must now be reconstructed from the
>copies we have available to us, some of which have minimal punctuation). I
>have seen some minimal punctuation in several quite early manuscripts, but
>such punctuation is sporadic and inconsistent. It is quite clear that there
>was no SYSTEM of punctuation which was generally followed in the first few
>centuries CE. There are also occasional spaces between phrases or clauses,
>but again there is no consistency. I don't have copies of any of the
>manuscripts available to me at home right now, so I can't cite examples.
>What we CAN say is that there was no punctuation in the vast majority of
>places where punctuation is needed in virtually any modern language and
>that there were genearlly no spaces between the words. We can also say
>there is no punctuation at all in many manuscripts and no spaces in many of
>the same manuscripts. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that there
>was no punctuation in the original texts.

It is my impression (I haven't checked this out in detail) that spaces for
"chapters", paragraphs, sentences, and clauses are more than occassional in
the papyrii. They are not always very big, but I think I see them there.
And in a written language which doesn't have any spacing between the words
themselves (in fact splitting words between lines), nor seem to have any
formalized punctuation in the first couple of centuries following NT, perhaps
spaces were all that was necessary. It is also my impression that most of
modern punctuation (which apparently follows in general later manuscript
tradition) agrees with the spacings and rare punctuation of the papyrii.
I can't ever remember this being discussed anywhere, certainly not in any
of the modern TC manuals.

Perhaps this is a question to be pursued on the TC list ??


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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