Fruit of the Spirit: An Adventure in Ancient Manuscripts

biblical interpretation curiosity new testament text criticism Jan 14, 2024

How Many Fruit Are there?

Are there twelve fruit of the Spirit or only nine? Most contemporary translations of Galatians 5: 22-23 list nine fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (NIV, for example). 

However, some older manuscripts of the Bible list more than nine and as many as twelve, adding purity, modesty, and longsuffering. What happened to these missing fruit in our contemporary Bibles? Have some been lost in translation or manuscript “errors”? I went on an adventure into ancient manuscripts of the Bible to find out.

Religion for Her is centering its social media posts around the fruit of the spirit in 2024, so I wanted to delve further into this question of manuscript differences around the fruit of Galatians. The manuscript variations in Galatians raise wonderful questions about the nature of the Bible as a text, a tradition, and a living liturgical experience.

Are there original manuscripts of the Bible?

The short answer is no. There are no original manuscripts of the Bible. However, there are many ancient manuscripts of both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament. Our modern Bibles present us with a single translation that is compiled from an amalgam of different manuscripts. This is especially true since existing manuscripts are fragmentary and rarely present us with the entire Bible. In the fourth century we have two codices that contain almost the entire Bible: Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. [1] However, some of our manuscripts of the New Testament, for example, include only the Pauline epistles. Another example is the collection of scrolls found at the Dead Sea, which are our oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. While some of these papyrus scrolls preserve entire books of the Hebrew Bible, nearly all have retained significant damage making portions unreadable, and the collection contains a vast array of tiny papyrus fragments that only have snatches of words or phrases.

[Image: The Aleppo Codex] [1]

In addition, there are sometimes differences between and among the various manuscripts. Generally speaking, our contemporary English Bibles do not present these to us. Some study Bibles include footnotes to present important differences. Therefore, it remains the job of scholars to decide which ancient manuscripts to follow in creating the translation. The study of variants among ancient manuscripts is a specialized field of biblical studies called textual criticism.

For the most part, the various manuscripts (and there are many, many!) have a surprisingly high degree of cohesion with only minor variations. This, in and of itself, is quite remarkable considering how old they are. 

There was a time in biblical scholarship, when scholars perceived the work of translating the Bible as a job of discerning which manuscript rendition was the most “accurate.” Oftentimes, this was decided on the basis of dating, generally prioritizing older manuscripts as “closer to the original” while relatively more recent manuscripts were sometimes classified as “less accurate” or containing “errors.”

However, the picture is far more complex than simply determining which manuscript is older and which is later. For example, some manuscript variations come from texts that originate from around the same time frame. It is perhaps more helpful to view translations as coming from schools, streams, or traditions surrounding the text of Scripture.

To complicate things further, multiple languages are in play in any translation. Ancient scribes and scholars not only copied biblical manuscripts, but also translated them from Hebrew into Greek (in the case of the Old Testament), or from Greek into Latin. As anyone who is bilingual knows, translating a text from one language into another is a complex task that requires thoughtful discernment about a range of factors including: cultural context, words that have a wide range of semantic meanings, idioms and colloquialisms, and other linguistic complexities.

The text of Galatians 5: 22-23 is a great passage to showcase the practice of textual criticism of the Bible, the kinds of considerations scholars make in studying and translating ancient manuscripts, and what a textual variant might look like.

Manuscript Variations and Expanded Translations: Galatians 5

While the largest number of ancient manuscripts list the standard nine fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, several early manuscripts include an additional fruit: agneia or chastity/purity. 

The image below is from Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth century manuscript of the Bible. This manuscript lists only nine fruit, which is the number given in nearly all contemporary Bibles and the same list found in the largest number of ancient manuscripts. [2]

So, how did we get to twelve fruit from only nine? Let’s peruse more ancient manuscripts to unravel the mystery.

The manuscript differences seem to derive from two different mechanisms.

Differences in Greek Manuscripts

First of all, some Greek manuscripts list ten fruit rather than nine. Codex Claromantanus, for example, lists an additional fruit at the end of the list in Galatians 5. The images below show two pages of the codex: the list begins on the first page presented and finishes on the second page. I have double circled the word agneia, the tenth word on the list of fruit.

This is a very important manuscript from the sixth century, and one of our earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. While fewer manuscripts attest to this tenth fruit, there are several that do. 

Codex Boernerianus, a ninth century manuscript of the Pauline epistles, also includes this tenth fruit agneia, or chastity/purity.

These manuscripts attest to a stream of church tradition that includes ten fruit rather than nine, which suggest that two versions of Galatians 5:22-23 circulated concurrently among various churches between the first and tenth centuries AD. Is one more “valid” or “authoritative” than the other? This depends on how one views the Bible and its transmission. Is one tradition more true or trustworthy than another? It seems to me that one gains very little from asking this question, whatever the answer. 

It seems more productive to me to ask this question of interpretation: Is chastity/purity understood as a separate fruit in the manuscripts that include it? Or is it an expanded understanding of the ninth fruit, self-control?

Differences in Translations

Codex Augiensis is an especially important text for exploring manuscript variations and translation dynamics that led to expanded lists of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. This manuscript of the Pauline epistles is a bilingual Greek-Latin text with two columns on each page: one for Greek and one for a Latin translation.

This manuscript includes the tenth fruit, agneia, in the Greek column. Additionally, the Latin version includes twelve words in the list of the fruit of the spirit. This manuscript reveals both elements of an expanded list: a variation in the Greek text that includes the word agneia in addition to the other nine fruit; and, it also demonstrates a translation technique of using more than one Latin word to translate a single Greek word. The Latin column of Codex Augiensis lists twelve words, which some might interpret as twelve fruit.

I am including below a printout of the manuscript that shows my workup trying to figure out how the translation worked:

In Codex Augiensis (above), the eighth fruit, praotes or gentleness, is rendered into Latin with two words: patientia and mansuetude, or patience and kindness. A translator at some point felt that both words were needed in order to convey the Greek word praotes or gentleness. Translation is a difficult enterprise and sometimes a translator might feel that the broader semantic range of a word is not quite conveyed by a single word and that more words were needed in order to convey the full meaning. Similarly, Codex Augiensis also uses two words to translate the Greek enkrateia: modestia and continentia, or modesty and self-control. 

One further observation from this manuscript is that the tenth word agneia is presented in the Greek column with unusual spacing. The word is written with a distance and separation from the rest of the fruit. This might suggest that the scribe copying/translating the Greek text was aware of manuscript differences, or variations in traditional renderings of the list. Or, it might signal the meaning that this word is to be understood as an expanded definition of the prior word. Either way, the scholar responsible for crafting the codex used spacing to draw attention to this word and to write it in a manner that distinguishes it from the rest of the list, indicating awareness of different streams of tradition.

Other ancient manuscripts attest to the practice of translating the Greek text with an expanded version of the list of fruit. 

For example, Codex Fuldensis, from 536 CE is an early Latin translation of the Greek New Testament. This manuscript lists the traditional nine fruit, but adds a second word to translate “patience” into Latin. An examination of the physical text of the codex is important for understanding expanded translations to the list of fruit. 

In the manuscript, the added word (“patient”) is clearly inserted into the text and is written above the word longanimitas. [3] It seems that this translator felt that an additional Latin word was needed to express the Greek word makrothumia. Or, that a scribe added this word to the manuscript at some point in keeping with another traditional list using this extra word. This important manuscript gives us a glimpse of how the list of nine fruit came to be expanded.

The Textualization of Ritual or Tradition

A question that bears further examination in the study of Galatians 5 is the role of liturgy, or what one might call church ritual or tradition, in the transmission of this list or of biblical texts more broadly. This text is one that is frequently memorized by children and adults alike as part of learning the faith in the Church, a phenomenon that spans across denominations and church traditions. How many of us learned Bible verses as part of growing up in the Church? I know that I did, and the list of the fruit of the Spirit was among the verses I learned by heart as a child.

In the ancient and medieval periods, the skills of reading and writing were generally restricted to experts with specific training. The general populace, often including church leaders of various sorts, was not literate and did not have access to manuscripts of the Scriptures. In an oral culture such as this, the transmission of important passages of Scripture would have been accomplished outside of writing or reading. The use of ecclesial art, practices of catechesis, such as memorization, and oral recitation would have been channels of communicating, teaching, and experiencing the Scriptures.

In a culture predisposed to oral transmission, written lists would not have circulated freely or been accessible in the manner they are today. Rather, participation in services, engagement in art and religious and liturgical practices would have taken on greater importance in preserving the tradition of the Scripture. It seems plausible that ritual and liturgy played a role in the expansion of the list of fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

Furthermore, it is not coincidental that the expanded list includes twelve words, matching the number of calendar months. These fruit might then be associated with the unfolding of the lunar calendar. This association between the fruits and months of the year is still observed in contemporary domestic and liturgical art. An example of this can be seen in the beautiful stained glass piece in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland that depicts the fruit from Galatians 5.

[Image by Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 4.0]

Does one need to choose between the list of twelve versus nine fruit? I think not. And this year, Religion for Her celebrates the expanded list in our social media and blog posts that will focus and highlight one fruit for each month of the year, in no particular order.

Does your church tradition celebrate nine or twelve fruit? Did you memorize the list as a child or an adult? Have you experienced the fruit depicted in art? Tell us in a reply to our social media post!

[1] In case you are curious and want to have a look at Codex Sinaiticus, here is a link to the digital manuscript.

[2] Want to explore the Aleppo Codex yourself? Digital manuscript is available at The Aleppo Codex Project.

[3] If you love ancient manuscripts as much as I do and want to nerd out by looking at some New Testament manuscripts that have been digitized, here is a great site:Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

[4] I am indebted to James Snapp, Jr’s blog on Galatians 5 for pointing out this fun manuscript observation.

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