The Revision, Revised Again

Samuel P Tregelles

The Revision, Revised Again

THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, eds., D. Jongkind, P. J. Williams et al., produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge; published by Crossway and Cambridge University Press (2017), Pp. 526

Every critical Greek New Testament must satisfy two classes of inquiries. First of all, the text should show no editorial reverence toward time-honored MSS: in other words, the text should be formed according to the editor’s judgments, even if such verdicts are not in conformity to views held by the individual’s academic peers. Or, it is essential, at least, that a diplomatic text is presented with the appropriate critical symbols indicating an editor’s appraisals of specific readings. Secondly, a handy critical apparatus should be assembled because it is a necessary accompaniment toward transforming uninformed readers into learned, judicious students of text-critical matters: i.e., of how transmitted texts were altered or ratified at various times and by various people in church history.

Failing in either of these two aspects, an editor (or editors) comes up short in comparison to the initial efforts of Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536), who published Novum Instrumentum Omne (1516), which, depending on your regard for the Complutensian Polyglot Bible (completed by 1514, but not published until 1520), may be considered the first truly critical Greek-Latin New Testament made available for public inspection.

At the time, the Latin Vulgate exerted a powerful influence over peoples’ ease of access to the contents of scripture. Revisions of the text lagged for a long period after Erasmus’ production. Able men considered doing more, but were unable to bring their intentions to fruition. Some novel methods of critical work were initiated later by a number of German scholars in the 19th century. Several of them issued critical texts in both sacred and secular contexts. Discovery of old MSS and papyri prompted new researches, the results of which were entirely provisional since so many MSS did not turn up for some time afterwards and/or still required collation.

There is no need to survey the overall German contribution to text-correction; but a few names deserve notice. By-passing J.J. Griesbach’s (1745-1812) 18th century text-critical volumes, the following century brought with it not only his 1805 edition but other men’s smaller and larger editions of Greek New Testaments. J.M.A. Scholz (1794-1852) published useful editions (Vol. I. 1830, Vol. II. 1836); but the application of K. Lachmann’s (1793-1851) genius to the Greek New Testament text (various editions: 1831-1850) was improved only by the collations of C. Tischendorf (1815-1874) and F.H.A. Scrivener (1813-1891).

Nowadays, modern Greek New Testaments appear at a rapid rate. One set of editors after another seem to believe they are capable of producing THE universal text in use in antiquity. The 20th century saw the publishing of numerous editions, each of them disseminating basically the same text with more or less of the same data. In effect, readings from codices Sinaiticus/א(01) and Vaticanus/B(03) have now come to constitute the “critical text”, one which editors have barely altered in over 100 years and which is now accepted by most academics as the customary form of the text used by the earliest Christian groups.

The Tyndale House version is a consequence of the precise criterion the editors used in the restoration of original readings. They continue a tradition that was popularized by B.F. Westcott (1825-1901) and F.J.A. Hort (1828-1892), two prominent scholars who reckoned MS B to be of superlative worth. The Tyndale editors’ textual foundation had been laid 170 years earlier. An original line of critical study in fact had been pioneered by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875). And Tregelles’ critical text formed the basis for the later construction of Westcott and Hort’s New Testament in the Original Greek (1881).

Tregelles was a formidable critic, born at Wodehouse Place, Falmouth. After his attendance at grammar school he was unable to acquire the university training so many of his peers obtained. Despite this deficit, his auto-didactic nature while working in Neath Abbey, Glamorgan, stood him in good stead in Welsh and Semitic pursuits and led to his publication of several volumes related to Hebrew and Syriac literature.

He widened the scope of his technical equipment to encompass the collation of New Testament MSS. His critical Greek New Testament, (issued 1857-1872), was, in every way, magisterial. Jerome’s Latin vulgate, [a by-product of codex Amiatinus], occupies the right side of each page of Tregelles’ edition. His apparatus is replete with citations and scribal abbreviations that were ignored in future editions. Few rival texts made as good use of the MSS.

With the help of colleagues, Tregelles pursued textual readings in Ethiopic and Armenian texts and he offered readers select references to writings of Church Fathers; but the guiding motive behind his methods was his ‘comparative criticism’, a presumption suggesting that the worth of even a couple of the oldest unused MSS prevails over a numerical majority of widely circulated, but later copied, cursive MSS. This guiding principle is one that he popularized, and it directed the editorial policy that steered Jongkind et al., in the construction of this new Tyndale House edition.

Aside from F.G. Kenyon’s (1863-1952) plentiful use of him in his Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (1901), Tregelles’ name was all but forgotten until now; although M.W. Holmes did employ Tregelles’ edition as one of four primary sources for another critical text, the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament (2010). Now the recovery of Tregelles’ laborious investigations resumes. A team of researchers consisting of D. Jongkind (editor) and P.J. Williams (associate editor) aided by assistant editors, P.M. Head and P. James (henceforth DP) modified Tregelles’ text. The ‘Preface’ is a brief two pages (vii-viii), just like the ‘Acknowledgements’ (525-526) terminating the book, wherein the division of labor is spelled out. Even so, in the ‘Introduction’ (505-523) readers are given precepts on how to use the volume.

In addition, they are informed that “Our revision of Tregelles has ended up being more thoroughgoing than we had expected, such that this is now a completely new edition, rather than a light revision.” (506). It remains to be seen if reviewers will agree with that estimation. This new edition gives very little evidence of intercourse between DP and Tregelles’ scholarship; and his edition definitely is not invalidated by the edition under review.

In distancing themselves from the need to compile a full apparatus, but with shared aims, the editors profess “we believe that this edition’s chief significance, like that of Westcott and Hort, lies not in its apparatus but in the text itself” (507). That statement should be taken with a grain of salt considering that the status and basic constituents of a critical apparatus in a “critical” edition should be deemed equal in value to the printed text that it confirms or with which it may vary. By their reasoning, possibly a plain critical text without apparatus might have contributed something of greater permanence. As a result, I foresee an imminent dilemma: translators, pastors, professors and independent editors in other disciplines will be hampered by this slimmed down apparatus.

So much here must be taken on trust, notwithstanding the claim that “users of this edition will have the benefit of knowing that any reading printed in this text rests on early testimony” (loc. cit). Brackets highlight gallant attempts to reconstruct readings where MSS are unclear. However, attributions of conjectural emendations by various editors in the past five centuries are disallowed in the apparatus.

Scholars in England should celebrate the fact that such a product was created within its borders. On the whole, students who are new to studies of the Greek New Testament will find this version helpful. The volume is beautifully constructed, 8 x 6 x 1.25. The text rests between two sturdy, black hardbound covers placed in a hard-wearing slipcase. Gold embossed lettering adorns them. Besides the 10 point font, 11inch ribbon marker, and excellent binding which allows the book to lie open, the pages are of a much heavier paper stock than the thin sheets that crinkle easily. Titles of all books are in CAPS, found at the beginning and end of books. Chapter headings are in the upper borders of the page; verse numbers flank the inner margins (of right-side pages) and outer margins (of left-side pages), but the numbering also is in the main part of the text, embedded at the start of consecutive verses.

Editions like these are important. They demonstrate scholarly predilections, revealing how academics believe biblical texts should be offered to readers. DP has given an ancient text a revived look. Given that grasping an author’s nuance is of chief import, page layouts are influential in the mode in which [con]texts are construed. The editors have done a handsome job representing ancient literary culture; and unlike the written script found in uncial texts and papyri, fortunately they provide an accented Greek text. Readers can inspect a sample extract of the text at the following web address:

There are multipurpose innovations: the order of books is presented as follows: Gospels, Acts, Catholic Epistles, Pauline texts and Revelation. As stated in the Introduction, this adjustment reflects the tendency in some ancient manuscripts to place the Catholic letters immediately after the four Gospels (512). This act sets no new precedent. German critics once reorganized this same material too: see P.  Buttmann’s (1809-1901), Novum Testamentum Graece (1856), an edition that was very inaccurate in its reporting of details and one that was centered on MS B. It has not been the policy of recent Nestle/Aland editions to perpetuate the same arrangement, likely on account of a perceived financial loss to publishers. Customs rarely change overnight. So I suspect this procedure is instigated again by DP in order to influence the arrangement of books in future translations.

Moreover, their scrupulous researches into the orthography of Greek MSS are commendable and groundbreaking. Therein I believe their best work was done, especially considering that there were no standard rules for noting down Greek lexemes in antiquity. It is impossible to follow their design to its desired end because the variation in spelling is far too lavish in MSS. Some form of spelling normalization always will be needed. Likewise, as they admit in the ‘Preface’ (vii), for ease of matters of interpretation restraint was shown in the organization of ancient Greek forms of writing. Punctuation entails the use of symbols for indicating how editors believe a clause or sentence is to be understood. The signs used to demarcate clauses, phrases and sentences are not overbearing. Their system does clarify points of interest where considerable doubts about readings once lingered.

A slow and careful comparison of technical details in Tregelles’ [Tr.] text of Philemon and in DP is worthy of a few remarks. In verse 5 Tr. has εἰς /DP has πρὸς (in agreement with Aleph). In verse 9, Tr. has a comma after παρακαλῶ[,]/DP deletes the comma (agreeing with Aleph); verse 10, Tr. has comma after τέκνου[,]/DP deletes it (disagreeing with Aleph). At verse 15 Tr. has ἅραν/DP prints ὥραν (agreeing with Aleph); verse 21 Tr. has a comma after σοι[,]/deleted in DP (disagreeing with Aleph); In Tr. the epistle does not terminate with ἀμήν/DP, however, adds it. Similar alterations can be seen if someone takes time to scan the epistle of Jude or examines Revelation 21.

On another subject, the method involved in DP’s endorsement and censure of passages raises questions. On the weighing scales, the balance of the MSS used by the editors heavily favors Aleph and B “by insisting that our text be attested in two or more Greek manuscripts, at least one being from the fifth century or earlier” (506). This technique was applied by Eberhard Nestle (1851-1913) who desired to ‘exhibit the readings of several editors and where two or more agree, regard their consentient opinion as the truest reading, placing the dissenting view in the apparatus.’ Other competent experts will judge of the force of the results of DP’s critical investigations.

This means of treating the MSS, in my opinion, misleads readers into the belief that there was one predominant text, obscuring the fact that there was not one utterly pervasive tradition. Current critics of the Greek NT persevere in the belief that one official composite text, made for and accepted by all Christendom, can be scientifically constructed: to view the full measure of this belief, see the theories that inform editors of Nestle/Aland 28th ed; UBS GNT 5th ed., and the Editio Critica Maior.

As regards P 1424 and codex Bezae/MS D(05), close readers can see that each one derives from dissimilar MS traditions. It is evident as well that Aleph and B are affiliated somehow, in spite of their numerous textual variations, because wherever 11 or more consecutive words are open to question in their New Testament readings, definite scribal tendencies appear and prove their resemblance; albeit I do maintain that they also embrace a heritage of acceptable readings retrieved from a literary tradition outside their stemmata. The tabulae of MSS, including sigla, on pages 518-523 shows the impartial judgment necessary for adjudging witnesses; others might debate the dates given to a few papyri and old MSS.

As for verses that are popular with the laity, the apparatus does not secure the reasons for the inclusion of the ending of the Gospel of Mark in the body of text and the relegation to the footnotes of the pericope of a ‘woman caught in adultery’; still, if I John 5:7 is not true to ancient witnesses, why cite so many MSS to support it, especially if plentiful medieval witnesses are of no import? If it is a true reading, then [insert it into the text], as was done with the Mark 16 ending: exactly the same thing should be said of John 5:3b-4. As a minimum, we know of a Syriac lectionary tradition from the 12th century that retains Mark’s longer ending for reading. So naturally it descended from a MS tradition that was significantly different from other MSS, about whose readings many parties had doubts.

Evidences in an apparatus are listed in order to elicit reactions. The reasoning behind why some readings are conserved in the text and others consigned to the notes is inexplicable. At Luke 22:43-44, although retained in the text, the apparatus shows there is a problem. The inference one draws is that the editors want readers to know there might have been a dislocation, perhaps one that followed Mat. 26:39? – The apparatus at Mat. 26:39 includes the note “add Luke 22: 43-44”, identifying it in MSS C³ and P 69. Presumably it is cited to “illustrate scribal habits” (p.515). With so much else safeguarded (e.g., εὑρεθήσεται at II Pet. 3:10), why is Acts 8:37 deleted? I know it was sent to the apparatus in the 4th edition of Nestle/Aland. But there are a few more witnesses than merely MSE to support the verse. Irenaeus (180AD) cited it (Against Heresies 3.12.8) and Cyprian cited it too (Treatises of Cyprian 12.3.43). Patristic citations are not brought to readers’ attention as they are in the apparatus of Tregelles and in A. Souter (1873-1949), Novum Testamentum Graece (1910; 2nd ed. 1947).

Therefore, I am unsure that this edition best reflects the earliest recension used by all Christian communities or by one of the larger of them in antiquity or by Christians in any district. Besides, it does not adequately correspond to a much better text that is within reach through the critical tools now available. The paramount goal of New Testament criticism, as I conceive of it, is to recreate the earliest obtainable readings of an ecclesiastical text widely used by particular groups. And yet, it is still not too ambitious a plan to determine what the original authors wrote. Original readings are discoverable in a MS’s tradition. A credible tradition, though, originating in New Testament times cannot be brought down to the Enlightenment era by a singular focus upon 2 MSS. This edition recalls to my mind the standard critical editions of sacred and secular texts published in the west 125 years ago for schools, colleges and theological institutions, ones with an adapted text – usually edited by German critics – including a handful of minor changes to the punctuation and wording, but with a slender apparatus appended.

With the right instructor, however, conscientious students who use this edition can learn to scrutinize variant readings and techniques of scribes, without having to work through all the arcane testimonia usually found in an apparatus. These ideals of New Testament text-criticism are reasonable. For tutelage in introductory matters exclusively, this edition is well-suited.

There is no codex optimus; but the dependence on codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus B is unconcealed. Readers, on the other hand, are not told of our imperfect knowledge of their provenance. From my examinations of Patristic texts, I surmise that their circle of influence was restricted to the private readings of a few persons. At any rate, early Greek papyri used comparatively by DP. Work in this field of study is crucial to understanding the transmission of the texts. Apparently true readings were not sought in non-Hellenic witnesses. If that is not the case, it certainly is the impression one gets from their apparatus.

I urge scholars of Early Christian Studies now to redefine their meaning of the term “critical” when used in the label “critical text”. It has a different sense for New Testament critics than it does for editors absorbed by studies of classical Greek, Roman and Vedic texts and cuneiform tablets. This new edition republishes without any substantial changes, what is basically a text of MS Sinaiticus, a key rival in the 19th century to the Elzevir 1624 edition. With New Testament criticism presently confined to Greek MSS, and together with two kinds of “received texts” now in the marketplace – the latter, for well nigh 400 years and the former for over 17 decades – students may wonder if it is a critical text when it merely adapts another edition without emendation and/or does not supply it with an extensive critical apparatus.

These themes need to be considered carefully. The current climate in broader academic studies of religion engenders harmony; but the accord falls apart when disagreement arises over how to illustrate the ancient forms of controversial verses in religious texts. In the sphere of biblical text-research things are no different. There are sound reasons that explain why many laypersons look on the editorial practices of researchers with a degree of skepticism. 30 years from now, it is to be hoped that things will look different in this field of study. Until editors show willingness to emend conjecturally a “critical text”, MS Sinaiticus will continue to be perceived as ‘the scholars’ text’ for the display of several outmoded principles of NT critics, and it will continue to be of negligible benefit to learned laymen and scholars in other disciplines.

It would be advantageous for publishers to re-issue standard diplomatic texts of individual MSS [in whatever language the New Testament is contained, e.g., the IX/X century MS ψ(044)], accompanied by a truly critical apparatus of ample size. This will allow laypersons and scholars of various sects to form educated opinions and choose the edition(s) that best reflect what they deem to be the earliest text that adheres to the readings they estimate to be true. At present, amid the current crop of critical editions, the presentation of “critical” data does not adequately represent the surplus of textual correspondences and deviations available.

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus

Darrell Sutton is a Pastor/Scholar who resides in the small hamlet of Red Cloud, Nebraska (USA). He edits an academic bulletin, The Ds Commentary on Books, and publishes poetry along with papers on biblical and classical texts. He is the author of the forthcoming volume Introducing A.E. Housman (1859-1936): Preliminary Studies, which will be released in March, 2018, by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

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