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:

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.

Link: Exegetical Commentary on the Textual Tradition of 1 Pet 1:12


James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

What edition of HCSB is that? My 2000 HCSB reads differently.

And the ASV certainly does not finish the verse by saying, "which things angel desire to look into."

In the first commentary-page:

"supported by 11 wtinesses" ??
"There may have been three theologically motivated variant" ??
"Scribes also seem to have had difficult dealing" ??

In the second commentary-page:

It's the TR that has HMIN. RP-2005 and HF both have UMIN.

"some medeival scribes" ??
"Most manuscripts include the Greek the stylistically optional preposition" ??

The KJV says "with the Holy Ghost," not "with the Holy Spirit."

I suggest that the -WN variant in MS 1718 probably arose accidentally as a copyist's guess at the meaning of an unclearly abbreviated word in his exemplar.

The reading in MS 1718 can't include "[EN]." It either has it or it doesn't.

This is a sample result of a 10-year project by a team of researchers at CNTTS? Really?

If you'd like, I could proof-read draft-entries for this project.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Rev. James M. Leonard said...


--HCSB 2009 (Bible Works); this differs from the print version that I have (2003).

--ASV. There is an apparent typo in the digital editions of the ASV, where "angel" probably should read "angels."

--yes, 11 witnesses. The reading marked by ECM as 22-24e is supported by 11 witnesses: 1 254 378 607 617 1524 2147 2423 2652 L938 L1141. For readings supported by six or more witnesses, I cite the total number of manuscripts in support, but only list those which are deemed significant.

In your comments marked by ??, I can only affirm what I've already written, unless you specify what your question is.

Thanks for the correction for Hodges-Farstad, and for the KJV's reference to the Holy Ghost.

The notion that 1718's variant arose due to confusion in abbreviation is interesting. The issue is that 1718 alone has a genitival ending, making it modify "the ones preaching," rather than "the Holy Spirit." The nomen sacrum
for "Spirit" in the 33 manuscripts at my disposal are all πνι, with the dative reinforced by αγιω. But of course, any thing is possible.

--Yes, "some medeival scribes"

--Yes, Most manuscripts include the Greek the stylistically optional preposition (3.1): 117 to 21.

--Yes, this is a 10 year project; we are in our second year. The sample provided is my own work on a given verse.

Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Thanks for the offer to proof, James. I'll take you up on it.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...


All of the phrases with "??" were intended to point out orthographic or grammatical errors. So, at the points specified . . .

Change "wtinesses" to "witnesses"

Change "variant" to "variants"

Change "difficult" to "difficulty"

Change "medeival" to "medieval"

Change "the Greek the" to "the Greek" (or to just "the")

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Lol. I just assumed you were questioning the point being made, prompting me to concentrate on the big issues. I should have concentrated on the obvious! Thanks, James.