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How We Got the New Testament

Text, Transmission, Translation

series: Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology

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This volume offers a historical understanding of the writing, transmission, and translation of the New Testament and provides cutting-edge insights into how we got the New Testament in its ancient Greek and modern English forms. The author, a recognized expert in New Testament Greek, offers a student-level summary of a vast amount of historical and textual information.

Responding to those who question the New Testament's reliability, Stanley Porter rigorously defends the traditional reason for textual criticism--to establish the original text or get as close to it as possible--and shows that this is still a reasonable goal. He reveals fascinating details about the earliest New Testament manuscripts and argues that the textual evidence supports an early date for the New Testament's formation. He also distinguishes between continuous text manuscripts and those that offer only excerpts, thereby providing a helpful nuance for textual criticism. Porter concludes by exploring the vital role translation plays in biblical understanding and evaluating various translation theories.

About the Series
The Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology series, sponsored by Acadia Divinity College, offers critical assessments of the major issues that the church faces in the twenty-first century. Authored by leading authorities in the field, these studies provide readers with requisite orientation and fresh understanding to enable them to take part meaningfully in discussion and debate.


"Misinformation abounds among both the general public and even some scholars about how carefully the text of the New Testament has been preserved, copied, and translated. Stanley Porter sets the record straight. All three processes have been undertaken with a remarkable degree of care and accuracy. Yet this book is no mere rehash of traditional positions. It is completely up-to-date with the very latest of cutting-edge scholarship in all three areas and offers distinctive proposals for furthering the progress of scholarship as well. It is a book to be read slowly, digested in detail, and thoughtfully appropriated. Highly recommended."

Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary

"A prolific biblical scholar addresses a fundamental question: How did we get the New Testament? Text criticism, textual transmission, and translation theory are oft-plowed terrain, but Stanley Porter unearths some little-known nuggets in this deceptively compact and thoroughly researched volume. Well versed and well published in all three fields, Porter offers both nonspecialists and seasoned scholars new insights about the stability of the Greek text, the early formation of the canon, and the rich variety of translation theories. There are also provocative new theses, suggesting different ways to frame these subdisciplines, as well as paths for breaking stalemates and moving forward."

N. Clayton Croy, professor of New Testament, Trinity Lutheran Seminary

"From the opening story about John Brown's life quest to the final chapter describing Christendom's twenty-one centuries of translating sacred texts, this book is filled with personal stories rarely heard, international scholarship seldom reviewed, familiar evidence freshly viewed, and innovative theories in compelling purview. Porter's erudition is amply demonstrated here. But what makes this book needed is not its extensive footnotes, not the sweep of its discussion of ancient manuscripts, not the playful command of the history of text criticism or theories of text transmission, not even the respectful retelling of the drama of translation since the LXX. All of these things make the book useful. What makes it needed is the prospective courage, the independent thought, and the gentle but deadly criticism of so many scholarly commonplaces in these fields of research. Use this text in your graduate course (or perhaps undergraduate seminar) on exegesis or text criticism or New Testament introduction. If you have no such course, then create one. Just get students to read it."

C. Michael Robbins, Azusa Pacific University

"With his typical breadth of knowledge, Stanley Porter offers us another helpful volume to frame our understanding of the background of the New Testament. This succinct text on complicated topics is unique in bringing together an introductory discussion of three related but distinct NT topics--textual criticism, early manuscript transmission (with some discussion of canon formation), and translation theory and practice. This is a solid resource for the educated layperson and a good introductory textbook for the college and seminary classroom."

Jonathan T. Pennington, associate professor of New Testament interpretation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"Porter's How We Got the New Testament is a welcome addition to the growing body of recent literature dealing with New Testament textual criticism and its corollaries canon formation and Bible translation. Porter, however, does not simply deal with the traditional topics of text, transmission, and translation--though he does this well; he also delves much deeper into the emergent and controversial methodological reassessments that have been prompted by a reinvigorated discipline. Porter's work not only serves as a helpful contribution to the ongoing discussions related to text-critical methodology but also seeks to extend the conversations originally framed by the luminous studies of individuals like Elliott, Epp, Holmes, Hurtado, Nida, and Parker."

Kent D. Clarke, B. F. Westcott Professor of New Testament, Textual Criticism, Greek Languages, and Hermeneutics, Trinity Western University

"Porter provides a wide-ranging historical summary and assessment of topics that are crucial to New Testament studies and to the church. Although the text and transmission of the New Testament have been discussed extensively in many prior works, this book is particularly useful because it is current with recent debates. The treatment of modern translations in part 3 is especially helpful and goes well beyond the usual considerations of formal versus functional equivalence."

Rodney Decker, professor of New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

"Not your typical study of the formation of the New Testament, this book takes the reader on a personal, guided tour of the documents and the methods used by scholars, by which we arrive at our present-day copies of the New Testament. Stanley Porter is one of the most prolific scholars working on the manuscripts, language, linguistics, and translation of the New Testament writings. In this book readers will learn how we gather from the multitude of individual manuscripts the texts printed, read, and preached from today. Notable here is Porter's defense of the traditional search for the original text in the face of the current trend to deny its feasibility or diminish its relevance. Going beyond attention to the ancient texts, Porter also argues for the importance of closely considering matters of translation since most of us encounter the New Testament most frequently in translated form. He offers informed evaluations of modern English translations and then introduces some of his extensive work on current translation theory and method. The result is a unique presentation that will greatly benefit both novice and expert alike."

Charles E. Hill, professor of New Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

The Author

  1. Stanley E. Porter

    Stanley E. Porter

    Stanley E. Porter (PhD, University of Sheffield) is president, dean, professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. A prolific scholar, he has authored, coauthored, or edited...

    Continue reading about Stanley E. Porter


2013 Word Guild Award - Biblical Studies category

"[Porter] develops his theses in conversation with numerous leading ancient and modern scholars. In the first two sections he discusses not only Greek manuscripts but also Latin, Coptic, and Syriac versions, along with lectionary evidence. He thoroughly critiques (debunks?) Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, along with the work of numerous other scholars. His criticisms are commendably evenhanded. . . . The book's third section traces translation theory and practice from the Septuagint through the English translations of the New Testament. . . . Porter offers in-depth critiques of the functional equivalency theory of Eugene Nida, as well as formal and other theories. . . . Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above."

J. E. Lunceford,


"[Porter] offers a blend of selective Forschungsbericht and provocative ruminations on the character and future directions of work on the text of the NT and its translation. . . . As one expects of Porter, this book is informative and provocative. The author poses important questions, often in ways that challenge current scholarly conventions of analysis and interpretation. It is not convincing at every point, but it is well worth reading and pondering."

John T. Carroll,

Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Porter's extensive work in New Testament text criticism, translation theory, and rhetorical criticism makes this [work] as useful for scholars as for seminary and graduate students. . . . Even those who disagree with [Porter] will find the detailed bibliographical material in his footnotes valuable. This volume provides resources to supplement New Testament courses in several different areas. . . . No one will come away from Porter's treatment of 'text, transmission, and translation' without appreciating the extraordinary efforts behind the Scripture we read in church on Sunday."

Pheme Perkins,

Review of Biblical Literature

"[Porter] succeeds in guiding his readers 'through the ever more complicated maze of critical, interpretative, and theological discussion taking place today' and engages his readers in the critical discussion. . . . The book can certainly be used as a supplemental textbook for a class on the validity and authenticity of the New Testament, on textual criticism, or on canonization. I highly recommend it to anyone who has not kept up with the recent developments of textual criticism and to anyone who wants to understand the concepts of linguistics behind translation methods. This book summarizes and highlights these views quite effectively."

Sylvie Raquel,

Review of Biblical Literature

"Porter's introduction to the formation of the NT covers a vast amount of material in a brief compass. . . . The value of Porter's treatment is that he offers a readable introduction with pointers to fuller studies for those who desire it. His discussion of current issues in NT textual criticism explains to the non-specialist some very abstruse concepts. . . . His brief sketch of the challenges to the traditional goals of textual criticism, the establishment of the 'original' text, may be the best place for the newcomer to the discipline to begin. His proposal of two classes of manuscripts, continuous and noncontinuous, is promising. Readers will welcome Porter's review of modern translations and the discussion of challenges facing the translator."

Peter R. Rodgers,

Religious Studies Review

"Porter is an able and highly informed guide, as well as being an excellent communicator. His reflections on each of these topics are, therefore, highly instructive for the seasoned scholar and novice alike. . . . This is a well-informed and insightful study of the text of the NT, its transmission and translation, and all would read it with profit. Porter challenges some established paradigms, and his ideas are worthy of careful consideration. This book is a splendid resource and provides fascinating coverage of the material it describes."

Paul Foster,

Expository Times

"This is a wonderful book written for a literate lay audience, but of interest to students and scholars alike. . . . Porter is a renowned scholar in the area of textual criticism and the formation of the New Testament canon. Here he focuses on three crucial dimensions of the process that has brought us the New Testament: (1) textual criticism, that is, how one goes about reconstructing the most reliable Greek text of the New Testament; (2) transmission, that is, considering the history of how our major manuscripts of the New Testament were formed and transmitted; and (3) the art and theory of translation and how translations themselves, both ancient and modern, are part of the process of insuring the transmission of the New Testament. Porter takes a well-informed and no-nonsense approach to these issues. The end result is an excellent contribution to our appreciation of the New Testament itself."

Donald Senior, CP,

The Bible Today

"Porter summarizes a wide swath of textual and translational history in an economy of space and from a fresh perspective. . . . Porter also must be commended for offering maverick proposals, which is how scholarship reexamines itself, avoids areas of neglect, and in the end advances. . . . Students of textual criticism should read Porter's book because it offers a fresh look at old evidence and will stimulate much further thinking as to how we got the NT."

Jeff Cate,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"Porter makes a number of interesting arguments in the book. . . . Porter is a recognized expert on biblical Greek, papyrology, and epigraphy, and therefore, this book reflects his wealth of knowledge in those areas. . . . A very good read about the origins of the NT . . . definitely worth reading and to recommend to students."

Michael F. Bird,

Euangelion blog

"Students of the Greek text of the New Testament have come to recognize their indebtedness to the careful and devout scholarship of Stanley Porter. This work provides no exception. . . . Porter offers new insights and suggestions. . . . Most welcome is the author's sober assessment of facile and often misleading works by sensation seekers. . . . The book is so wide-ranging and substantive in detail that it is likely to serve as a handy resource for a long time to come."

Richard N. Soulen,


"The reader benefits in this volume from mature reflection upon the important questions under consideration. In each of the three chapters Porter makes a significant contribution, not only in accurately summarizing the current position of scholarship but more helpfully in offering thought-provoking proposals. . . . Porter's long engagement with the text of the New Testament ensures this is a volume which cannot be ignored by anyone interested in text, transmission and translation of the New Testament."

Gordon Kennedy,

Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

"The book is divided into three chapters, each corresponding to three related themes: the text of the New Testament, its transmission through the centuries, and its translation into other languages. Porter is not only conversant with the scholarship related to these three areas but has made important contributions to that scholarship over the years. . . . How We Got the New Testament is a fine survey of the issues related to text, transmission, and translation. . . . I would recommend the book for those who are interested in how the Bible came together and how it has been passed down to us today in its present form."

Wilburn T. Stancil,

Catholic Books Review

"Porter's description and analysis is accompanied by fairly full references. His descriptive sections are clear, and the proposals regarding all three areas are stimulating. I found the book to be a good guide through the maze of sometimes-complex areas including text critical methodologies, and Porter's expertise in papyrology and linguistics (at least) is evident in his grasp of the issues, description of others' views, and assessment of a whole range of suggestions in various areas. I would heartily recommend this book to specialists and non-specialists alike, as they ponder the issues surrounding 'how we got [and get!] the New Testament.'"

Alan Mugridge,


"This book is a handy introduction to the subject of how we got the New Testament that every New Testament scholar and student will find useful. Porter not only presents the three major sections of his book in a clear and orderly way, he also carefully selects the important topics to give a full account of the subject matter at hand, encompassing textual critical matters, manuscript and papyri evidence, and modern translation theories. . . . Readers may raise an eyebrow upon encountering Porter's proposal for the use of a single-manuscript text as an alternative to the eclectic Greek texts that are believed by most scholars to be how the original Greek actually might have appeared. . . . Nevertheless, Porter's proposal, despite sounding simple, also merits careful attention, if scholars are truly serious in their quest for the original text. The fourth-century codices provide a strong body of evidence that scholars need to think about critically to decide whether their own modern text-critical work or the actual texts used by the fourth-century Christians come closer to the original text."

Hughson T. Ong,

Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism

"Porter's clear analysis of the broader philosophical issues related to textual criticism offers theological students insight into the state of the discipline today and makes bold proposals for studying the text of the NT for the future."

Todd Chipman,

Midwestern Journal of Theology

"[An] informative book. . . . It covers three vital areas of importance to all who value the New Testament as God's inspired Word: the text of the New Testament, its manuscript transmission, and the process of translation. Porter has written scholarly articles on all three fields. In this book he looks at broader issues that should be of interest to all students of the New Testament and he suggests new ways at looking at major issues. . . . [This] is the kind of book the Bible teacher or serious student who wants up-to-date information and informed comment of these three key fields of New Testament study should read."

Greg Goswell,

New Life

"The author reveals fascinating details about the first manuscripts of the New Testament and argues that textual evidence supports an early date for the formation of the New Testament."

Filologia Neotestamentaria

"Any reader willing to work through some technical material will benefit from Porter's work and will read the Bible with a better understanding of how it came to be."

Matt Damico,


"Porter's work will not only benefit the student as a substantial introduction to the many issues involved with the production, establishment, and transmission of the Greek New Testament, but it will also function as an excellence recourse for further study. . . . Porter has combined the discussion of history and theory in such a way that How We Got the New Testament is neither a simple historical survey nor a plain theoretical proposal. The Greek New Testament has a long history with many characters who play important roles along the way, and yet a host of theories and methodologies have been proposed and debated within each generation. Porter should be commended for drawing upon this rich and interesting history while simultaneously contributing unique insights into the many debates."

Exegetical Tools Quarterly

"This book is engaging, insightful, balanced, and commends itself to readers of all backgrounds. Porter touches on a wide variety of topics with skill and vision, synthesizing a variety of concerns into a cogent discussion of how we got the New Testament. . . . Highly recommended to anyone interested in learning more about the history of the New Testament. Not only do the contents of this book offer valuable observations for those seeking to better understand the New Testament and early Christianity, but How We Got the New Testament also addresses penetrating issues at the heart of all Christian faith. May Porter's acumen here motivate many to take up and read with greater understanding."

Jacob J. Prahlow,

Pursuing Vertias blog