Newswise — Obtaining original manuscripts from the Greek New Testament normally requires travelling to numerous access-limited locations worldwide, but now it can also be done with one visit to Canada's Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, near Vancouver.

After 50 years of collating biblical manuscripts, New Testament scholar Reuben Swanson, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Western Carolina University, is passing on his massive collection of primary research to TWU's Kent Clarke, Ph.D., professor of religious studies. Clarke, who recently began working with Swanson on editing the collection, inherited over 100 different ancient manuscripts on microfilm, containing all of the books of the New Testament and some Old Testament books.

According to Clarke, not only is this microfilm as close to the exemplar manuscripts as possible, this collection is by far the biggest of its nature in Canada. It's Clarke's goal to make the primary biblical texts available for students and the community alike.

"It's pretty hard for any of us to fly to the Vatican library to evaluate ancient manuscripts—though some of us do that—so textual critics have pretty much relied on microfilm," explains Clarke. "Throughout Swanson's 50 years of research, he spent significant time and money slowly gathering this collection. There is nothing comparable to this in Canada—and now it's right here in Langley."

Now in his eighties, Swanson, a Yale graduate, is still professor emeritus at WCU where he actively conducts research. It's his job to collate biblical manuscripts by studying and comparing ancient Greek manuscripts to produce a text as close to the original biblical writers as possible.

Swanson's most notable accomplishment is the publication of a critical edition of the Greek New Testament which investigates other biblical collations.

"When you compare the biblical text found throughout all the ancient manuscripts, there are sometimes discrepancies or differences," explains Clarks. "These are due in large part to unintentional scribal errors as the manuscripts were copied by hand throughout the centuries. However, the large majority of these differences can, through the work of New Testament textual critics, be corrected to more accurately reflect a very early New Testament text."

One notable collation scrutinized by Swanson's critical edition is Constantine Von Tischendorff's eighth edition of the Greek New Testament. This book is generally regarded as the most accurate edition of the Greek Bible, and it's critical editions such as this that most modern English translations—such as the New International Version (NIV)—are based upon.

Now TWU students will be given easy access to these same microfiches that gave Swanson a glimpse at original biblical texts.

And though this is a significant resource for TWU and its students, it will also benefit other academics nation-wide. "In some ways," explains Clarke, "this changes the nature of our New Testament studies program because we now have primary sources for our master's and undergraduate students. There are literally years of masters and doctoral theses here, so it's like being handed a massive collection of primary source books, anywhere from 1000 to 1600 years old."

Clarke discloses that up until a year ago, all this material was intended for a large U.S. university. "I still wake up in the morning and shake my head and think, 'Why me? Why did he pick me?' I think it must be in part the grandfather-grandson type relationship that formed. We just hit it off from the get-go."

In recognition of Swanson's exemplary academic excellence, scholarly generosity, and life-long labour in New Testament textual criticism, it is Clarke's vision to establish a manuscript collection named in honour of Swanson. TWU master's students have already begun accessing the microfilm for research, under the supervision of Clarke.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a not-for-profit Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,500 students this year. With a broad based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 38 major areas of study ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 13 other graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.