Textual Transmission: ‘Haplography’ and ‘Dittography’

Posted: January 31, 2012 in General

My readings from the stalwarts in textual criticism, like Bruce Metzger, Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, Matthew Black, David Alan Black, G. D. Kilpatrick, Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, and Zetzel, made me informed about the complicalities involved and the necessity to read, translate, and interpret the New Testament texts with care and concentration. Here, I would like to invite my readers’ attention toward two types of errors that are identified within the text(s). As in the case of ‘itacism’, ‘accidental’ or ‘unintentional’ variations arise by accident and through overstrain and preoccupation on the part of the copyist [1]. ‘Haplography’ and ‘Dittography’ are two important ones among a large number of accidental errors or variations. Let us see a few examples below:

(1) Haplography

When the scribe’s eye inadvertently passed over from one word or phrase to another of similar form or sound (i.e., parablepsis) an omission would result known as haplography [2]. A good example is found in Codex Vaticanus (B) at John 17:15 [3], where the phrase ek tou before kosmou has led to the omission of all that follows in view of a corresponding ek tou before ponērou. Many other examples of omission occur in a wide variety of manuscripts. The whole verse at Luke 10:32 [4] is lacking in a Codex Sinaiticus because the sentence ends with the same verb antiparēlthen as the previous sentence (i.e., v. 31) [5].

(2) Dittography [6]

Another scribal quirk is caused by the doubling of words as the writer’s eye returns to the place he has just written down and he repeats himself. In Acts 19:34 the cry of the mob, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”, is given twice in Codex Vaticanus. Again in Romans 7:25 where one group of textual witnesses reads “Thank to God”, charis tō theō and another group has eucharistō tō theō [7]. “In all likelihood”, as Martin says, “the eye of the scribe whose work formed the basis for the later tradition deceived him into writing twice, and so he has manufactured a verb (eu)charistō by the repetition of ” [8].

The above study informs one and all, who are involved in biblical preaching, teaching, interpretation, and translation, about the necessity to gain considerable knowledge and expertise in the field of textual critical approaches. As Gordon D. Fee rightly defines, “Textual criticism is the science that compares all known copies of a given document in an effort to trace the history of variations in the copying process so as to discover the original form of the text” [9]. This makes us aware that ‘true meaning can be attainable; but, that is possible only by way of strenuous endeavours’.


[1] Vincent Taylor, The Text of the New Testament: A Short Introduction (London: MacMillan & Company Ltd., 1961), p. 2.

[2] The Greek New Testament, ed. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, et. al., Fourth Edition (United Bible Societies), p. 693. Also see Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students. Vol. 1 (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 162.

[3] This textual issue is not at all dealt with in many of the prominent commentaries (see Carson, 1991: 561; Bruce, 1983: 333; Beasley-Murray, 1987: 300; Barrett, 1978: 509-10; Lenski, 1942: 1144-45; and others).

[4] I.e., the verse: “So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side”.

[5] Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Third Edition (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 189.

[6] Sometimes the eye of the scribe picked up the same word or group of words a second time and as a result copied twice what should have appeared only once (this kind of error is called ‘dittography’).

[7] Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, p. 190. See the five readings at The Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies, Fourth Revised Edition), p. 537. The readings are: (1) charis de tō theō; (2) charis tō theō; (3) hē charis tou theou; (4) hē charis kuriou; (5) eucharistō tō theō; and (6) charis tō kuriō hemōn Iēsou Christou.

[8] Martin, New Testament Foundations, p. 162. Also read, Thomaskutty Johnson Chakkuvarackal, A Critical Review of New Testament Translation (Delhi: ISPCK, 2004).

[9] Gordon D. Fee, “Textual Criticism”, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, Illinois, Inter-Varsity Press, 1992): 827-31.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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