Pastors are busy. They are expected to maintain competence in a wide range of skills from preaching to counseling, balancing the budget to carefully parsing the doctrine of the Trinity. It can be a lot to keep up with. In this blog post, I want to help busy pastors with a short series on the latest developments in New Testament textual criticism. We’ll tackle this in three posts, looking at new editions, new methods, and new resources. But first, a quick word about why textual criticism matters.
Textual criticism is that discipline that tries to recover the original wording of a work whose original documents have now been lost. Since no original document survives for the New Testament and since the existing copies disagree with one another, textual criticism is needed for all 27 books. Since we cannot study, teach, and apply the Bible if we don’t know what it says, textual criticism—whether we know it or not—plays a foundation role in pastoral ministry.
So, what is new in textual criticism?
First, there are several new editions of the Greek New Testament that have come out in recent years. The most recent one is known as the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT). The result of over a decade of work, it was produced by a group of scholars at Tyndale House library in Cambridge, England, a premier study center for Biblical studies. The main hallmark of this edition is the editors’ documentary or manuscript-first approach. In practice, this means they have tried to follow the earliest manuscripts not only for the text but also for deciding paragraphing, spelling, and even accenting. In presentation, they have taken a minimalist approach with no text-critical symbols, no headings, and even no hyphens! The result is a text that is ideal for immersive reading and for challenging commonly-held assumptions about where to break the text.
Two other important recent editions are the Nestle-Aland Novum Testament Graece 28th edition and the UBS Greek New Testament 5th edition. These two editions have long established themselves as the scholarly standard and they remain so for serious exegetical work on the New Testament. They share the same text between them but differ mainly in how much information they provide in the apparatus. The most important difference between these newest editions of the Nestle-Aland and the UBS is in the method used to establish the main text.
In the so-called Catholic Letters (James, 1–2 Peter, 1–3 John, Jude), the editors used a new computer-assisted method to help understand how manuscript texts are related and to help make their decisions more consistent. That method is known as the “Coherence-Based Genealogical Method” or CBGM—a mouthful for sure, but an important development in New Testament textual criticism nonetheless. As a result of applying the CBGM, the NA28 and UBS5 text changed in 33 places in the Catholic Letters with more changes on the way for Acts in future editions.
A pastor with an older edition of the NA or UBS who is preaching on one of these Catholic Letters may want to update to the new edition in order to be aware of where these changes are. Alternatively, buying the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament might be a great way to approach a familiar book in Greek in a new way.
In our next blog post, we will consider the CBGM in more detail.
Peter Gurry joined the Phoenix Seminary faculty in 2017. He teaches courses in Greek Language and New Testament literature. His research interests range across Greek grammar, New Testament textual criticism, the General Epistles, and the history of Biblical scholarship. Learn more about Dr. Gurry here.