Tracing the Bible's Journey from the Authors' Hands to the Reader's Heart
Monday, 30 January 2012
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Textual Tradition
The Center for New Testament Textual Studies is producing an exegetical commentary on the variants in the New Testament textual tradition. For more information about CNTTS: NTText.org
Most Bible students are familiar with commentaries on the New Testament. Sometimes these commentaries will mention variants and comment on why they are not original, giving a short version of the kind of information that can be found in Metzger's Textual Commentary on the New Testament. However, most commentaries, including Metzger's, do not discuss the actual meaning of the variants--they usually only discuss the reason for taking the reading to be a variant rather than the original text.
What our free on-line commentary will do is to explain the meaning of the variant. Even though a given reading might be patently non-original, early and medieval Christians may not have known that it was non-original. Our commentary will explain how they interpreted their text as it occurred in their copies of the Bible.
The on-line commentary is designed for inquisitive Sunday School teachers and ministers who are well educated but may not know Greek. However, we also anticipate a version for specialists as well. Through interactive links to additional information, we anticipate that inquisitive Bible students will grow in their understanding of Greek grammar and textual criticism if they regularly consult our commentary.
The format is being developed by a professional web developer. At the end of the article, follow the link to a sample of my raw data. Here's an explanation of my own format.
I put four English translations of a given verse in four parallel columns. Underneath, in parallel rows, I list the Greek text of 10 different critical editions. The 10 rows of Greek are not meant to intimidate the non-Greek user. Rather, since the words are lined up in parallel to each other, even non-Greek users will see that in almost every case, all 10 Greek editions are very, very similar.
This has an apologetic value. In an era when some scholars claim that there are so many variants that we can never hope to reconstruct the original text, the 10 rows indicate a huge amount of agreement by various scholars ranging over the last 150 years. If the textual tradition is as hopelessly convoluted as some scholars say, then why is there so much agreement between the critical editions?
After the text of the 10 critical Greek editions, I give an overview of the textual tradition. I cite the number of manuscripts that have been checked for the given verse (for 1 Peter, there are about 150 Greek manuscripts). Then I indicate how many of them have the same exact wording as our most commonly used critical Greek edition, NA27. I also indicate how many variation units are found in the textual tradition, with additional details on how well these variation units are supported.
The overview includes inferences from the textual tradition on what elements in the original text may have been problematic for scribes to copy accurately. Additionally, differences in the textual tradition are identified as reflecting stylistic alterations, theologically or pastorally motivated alterations, or alterations for other reasons.
The overview usually concludes with a comment stressing that the textual traditions is free of wild divergences, and that there is insufficient evidence to hypothesize a text significantly different from that of NA27. Again, this emphasizes the commentary's support of Christian apologetics.
After the overview, the "meat" of the commentary is found in the next section which discusses those variants which differ in meaning from the text found in NA27. The vast majority of textual variants do not affect meaning, and this is evident in that any given verse will have 20 or more different readings, but only 2 or 3 merit discussion in the commentary. Again, note the apologetical value.
In an attempt to make the commentary more user-friendly to non-specialists, where possible I have avoided Greek words in the discussion column (column 3) of the commentary section. I do include them in the initial column of the commentary section, but even here they are de-emphasized by their gray color. The second column provides a list of manuscripts which support a given reading. In the final version, I anticipate that users can click on any manuscript that will link the user to a short biography of the manuscript; for now, I have put footnotes on the manuscripts in which a poorly supported reading is found.
This pdf version includes our internal data. These include all the readings which were not mentioned in the commentary section. I cite the reasons why these readings were excluded from the commentary.
I am looking for feedback to make this project better. In particular, I would like to hear your assessment on how usable it might be for well-educated non-specialists who are inquisitive students of the Bible--such as the one or two Sunday School teachers in your church who put some serious effort into studying their lesson.
Text in blue are meant to be hyperlinks to more detailed explanation; these are not yet functional.
What They're Saying about the New Testament Canon....
Here are some of the many difficult things being said about the New Testament. Text and canon have become extremely hot spots in the field of New Testament studies. Of course, this has nearly always been the case, but now more so than ever. This blog has been created to evaluate such claims and to put forth counter claims for the reliability of the transmission of the biblical text.
Here's what's being said....
Prior to the third and fourth centuries, the Gospels existed in significantly different forms than we have them today.
Our current edition of Paul's letters are replete with non-Pauline interpolations and additions.
The Pauline letters circulated in the second and third centuries in a collection which excluded the Pastorals Epistles.
Since the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were recensions and radical revisions of Mark's Gospel, and since 2 Peter is an expansion of Jude, one may assume a priori the same sort of revision and expansion happened with the other New Testament writings.
Paul didn't write 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, or the Pastoral Epistles.
2 Corinthians is composed of two or more different letters of Paul which were stitched together in the late first or second century from some of his other letters which are now lost.
The reason why there is little or no evidence of strange editions of Paul in the extant Greek manuscripts is because powerful church officials systematically sought to destroy them.
"Improvements" to the text of the New Testament were added to make it more theologically correct.
Christians in the second and third century felt free to add to the apostles' writings because they thought themselves led to do so by the Holy Spirit.
The text as it was written by the biblical authors cannot ever be re-constructed.
The second century "heretic" Marcion wrote the original "Gospel of Luke" which afterward was edited by powerful and influential church leaders to make it more theologically correct; our biblical Gospel of Luke is thus a recension (altered version) of Marcion's original gospel.
Since there are so many interpolations found in the Greek versions of the Old Testament, one may assume a priori the same thing happened with the New Testament.
The Western Text, especially in Acts, gives strong evidence of the instability of the transmission of the biblical text in the first 150 years of the Church.
The present form of the Pauline Epistles underwent significant revision in the first 150 years of the Church in order to moderate Paul's extremist views on many issues.
The Revelator penned his warning against adding to or taking away from his book (22:18-19) precisely because this was already happening with early Christian literature.
The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, and other early literature contain sayings and stories which are often more historical or authentic than the canonical Gospels.
Paul may have been responsible for "publishing" his collected works years after their original composition, and he may have altered the published edition then to read different from the originals. Thus, it is possible or even likely that already by the last half of the second century, there were different versions of Romans and Corinthians in the hands of Christians. After Paul's death, further editions with altered contents were published.
The editors of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament engage in a programmatic and theologically biased expansion of the text of the New Testament in each new addition.
Each of these claims poses a challenge for those of us who believe that the Bible is God's Word and has been reliably transmitted to us in the text of our biblical manuscripts. Together, these claims serve as something of a task list for us.
A scholar-pastor (PhD Cambridge), I have recently accepted a pastorate at a Baptist church in Grand Blanc, Michigan. We hail from West Virginia, and in years to come, we hope to return there for a vigorous retirement ministry.