Review: The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research

holmes_ehrman_textofNTTitle: The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (Second Edition)

Editors: Michael Holmes and Bart Ehrman

Bibliographic info: XII + 830 + 53 (indices)

Publisher: Brill, 2013.

Buy the book at Amazon or Brill.

With thanks to Brill for the review copy!

Ever since I first got involved in serious biblical studies and bought the wonderful NET-NA27 diglot, I have been enraptured with New Testament textual criticism. To borrow the well-known saying about the Gospel of John, “it is shallow enough for even babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.” Similarly, New Testament textual criticism is simple enough for the armchair student of biblical studies to get a good enough grasp of it, yet it also offers up deep complexity that one can spend years studying.

This volume is the second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research. This new edition is called for due to important advancements that have been made in the field of New Testament textual criticism in the years since the publication of the first edition in 1995. The twenty-eight studies in this volume, from many well-known figures in the field, aims to present a thoroughly updated edition to reflect this advancement in knowledge and methods (e.g. the ECM, CBGM, stemmatics, and so forth).

This edition is over twice the size of the first edition, with several new chapters added and all of the recurring chapters being revised and updated. As with the first edition, each chapter concludes with a lengthy bibliography for further reading. One chapter found in the first edition but excised from this updated edition is the study on the use of computers in New Testament textual criticism. Though an unfortunate absence, the preface notes that this deletion was due to “the impossibility of any print resource keeping up with the rapid pace of development and change in this field” (ix).

The first four chapters in the volume discuss the different types of Greek witnesses to the New Testament that we possess, with the chapters having the same authors as they did in the first edition. In order to give an idea of how much these chapters have been revised and update, I have provided the differences in chapter sizes between the first and second editions in parentheses.

  • Eldon Jay Epp on papyrus manuscripts (18 vs. 39 pp.)
  • D.C. Parker on the majuscule manuscripts (20 vs. 27 pp.)
  • Kurt and Barbara Aland on the miniscules (17 vs. 22 pp.)
  • Carroll Obsurn on the lectionaries (13 vs. 20 pp.)

After reading through the chapters in this new second edition and then flicking through the same chapters in the first edition, the structure of these chapters seems pretty much the same yet they have obviously been reworked to provide up-to-date information on the topic at hand, such as how the subject-matter of each chapter has been impacted by various new aspects of research such as the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method.

The next eight chapters are on the various early versions of the New Testament. A notable difference is that the Armenian chapter nearly tripled in size and another being the addition of a chapter on the Gothic version. Out of these eight chapters, seven of them are by a different author than those in the first edition.

  • Ulrich Schmid on the Diatessaron of Tatian (19 vs. 27 pp.)
  • Peter Williams on the Syriac versions of the NT (15 vs. 23 pp.)
  • Philip Burton on the Latin version (17 vs. 33 pp.)
  • Christian Askeland on the Coptic versions (10 vs. 28 pp.)
  • Rochus Zuurmond (revised by Curt Niccum) on the Ethiopic version (14 vv. 21 pp.)
  • S. Peter Cowe on the Armenian version (15 vs. 39 pp.)
  • Jeff Childers on the Georgian version (14 vs. 34 pp.)
  • Carla Falluomini on the Gothic version (21 pp.)

The chapter on the Diatessaron was particularly helpful, for the question of how it can be used in the textual criticism of the Gospels is a difficult one (due to us not even possessing an extant continuous text of the Diatessaron, not to mention there still being debate over whether the Diatessaron was originally written in Syriac or Greek). Schmid approaches the Diatessaron in the chapter by employing an “old perspective”-“new perspective” structure (with the new perspective basically being research from 1995 onwards).

The next four chapters examine the state of the New Testament text to be found in the Patristic witnesses and other important Greek witnesses. Three are revised chapters from the first edition, with the fourth chapter being a new contribution.

  • Gordon Fee (revised by Roderic Mullen) on the Greek fathers (16 vs. 22 pp.)
  • H.A.G. Houghton on the Latin fathers (15 vs. 30 pp.)
  • Sebastian Brock on the Syriac fathers (12 vs. 21 pp.)
  • Peter Head on additional Greek witnesses, e.g., ostraca, amulets, inscriptions, and other types of witnesses. (31 pp.)

Peter Head’s chapter on additional Greek witnesses is a welcomed addition to this edition because not every witness to the New Testament text can neatly fall under the categories of papyri, majuscules, minuscules, lectionaries, patristic citations, or versional evidence. These other Greek witnesses to the New Testament text also bear witness to the Rezeptionsgeschichte of the text and thus should have a role to play in New Testament textual criticism. For instance, an amulet of Mark 1:1-2 from Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy 5073) is a good example; Head says that it is “our earliest manuscript witness to this passage by a century, and clearly reflects a form of the text lacking the words “Son of God” from 1:1″ (442).

The next eight chapters are on various tools and aspects of New Testament textual criticism. Five of them are new contributions not found in the first edition (the chapters by Haines-Eitzen, Epp, Wasserman, Krans, and Holmes).

  • James Royse on scribal tendencies in the transmission of the NT text (13 vs. 17 pp.)
  • Kim Haines-Eitzen on the social history of early Christian scribes (17 pp.)
  • Thomas Geer Jr. (revised by Jean-Francois Racine) on analyzing and categorizing NT Greek manuscripts (14 vs. 21 pp.)
  • Eldon Jay Epp on textual clusters (38 pp.)
  • Tommy Wasserman on the criteria for evaluating readings (33 pp.)
  • Jan Krans on conjectural emendation (22 pp.)
  • Michael Holmes on the traditional goal of NT textual criticism (51 pp.)
  • Juan Hernandez Jr. on modern critical editions and apparatuses of the Greek NT (13 vs. 21 pp.)

Holmes’ chapter is a much needed study in this volume (he discusses whether the goal of New Testament textual criticism is seeking after the “original text”, the “initial text,” an “authorial text,” etc). Epp’s contribution is another one I’m glad was included. Basically, his idea of “textual clusters” is an updated (and more flexible) version of the now outmoded concept of “text-types.”

The next three chapters are on the three standard methodological approaches to New Testament textual criticism, all of which are revised versions of their first-edition counterparts.

  • Daniel Wallace on the Majority text theory (23 vs. 33 pp.)
  • J. Keith Elliott on Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (14 vs. 25 pp.)
  • Michael Holmes on Reasoned Eclecticism (24 vs. 31 pp.)

The final chapter is Bart Ehrman’s discussion on the New Testament text as a window into the social history of early Christianity (28 vs. 27 pp.).

When I originally looked at the table of contents I was somewhat surprised there wasn’t a chapter on the the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method and its application in the Editio Critica Maior. When one considers the number of times it is mentioned throughout the book, I figured it would have merited its own chapter. Thankfully, though, there are several pertinent discussions on it strewn throughout the volume, with a notable examination of it provided by Wasserman in his chapter on the criteria for evaluating readings (see pp. 595-607).

All in all, this volume provides in-depth studies on New Testament textual criticism from a variety of perspectives. Each chapter truly provides the status quaestionis (“state of the question”) for the subject-matter under discussion by highlighting and expounding upon current thinking in the field of New Testament textual criticism. This is a wonderful update to the first edition and is surely one of the most important books on textual criticism that a New Testament student or scholar could have on their bookcase – and the relatively inexpensive paperback version allows this to become a reality!


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