Some Random Thoughts on the Tyndale House Greek New Testament

I received in the mail from the publisher a couple of weeks ago a copy of The Greek New Testament, which will probably be referred to as the Tyndale House Greek New Testament or THGNT. The official release date is 15 November 2017. Published by Crossway and produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge, under the editorial leadership of Dirk Jongkind (with assistance from Peter Williams, Peter Head, and Patrick James), this is a volume that has been in the works for ten years. It promises to offer many new features that have been overlooked in other Greek New Testaments.

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Among them, the editors have particularly focused on the spelling of various verbs that may involve an itacism (if that’s even the right word—something the editors challenge). On the Evangelical Textual Criticism blogsite Peter Williams notes that γίνομαι in Luke is always to be spelled γείνομαι, “a prestigious koine spelling by careful scribes to bring out the long vowel which arose when the second gamma of the Classical form γιγνομαι was dropped.” At first I thought that this ETC note showed that Luke’s usage was a higher register of Koine Greek, but when I looked at the Introduction in the THGNT I saw that this spelling is followed in Luke, Mark (!), and Romans through Colossians, as well as a couple of verses in John (THGNT, 509). The editors do express the view that their objective was to represent the wording of the autographs—“This edition aims to present… the best approximation to the words written by the New Testament authors…” (THGNT, 505 [italics added]). But they do not seem to follow this same spelling for the first principal part of γίνομαι for Acts. The reason is presumably due to documentary evidence: we have P75 for Luke, but nothing truly comparable for Acts. But are we to suppose that Luke’s spelling of this verb changed to the shorter form every time it occurs in Acts (Acts 2.43 [bis]; 4.30; 5.12; 8.13; 12.5, 9; 14.3; 19.26; 21.14; 23.10; 24.2; 26.22; 27.33; and 28.6)? This raises the question of how rigid we should be in following the earliest documentary evidence (through the fifth century), a principal explicitly stated several times in the THGNT Introduction. Overall, however, reproducing the earliest documented spellings is a noteworthy contribution of this tome.

Χριστός is not capitalized in spite of the fact that “it may sometimes be a proper noun” (THGNT, 511). That ‘sometimes’ is quite the understatement since in the Epistles this is the normative force.

Another innovation is to follow the actual paragraphing of the manuscripts, especially the early ones. The reader will notice several differences from the Nestle-Aland text in this regard. For example, in Ephesians 5, Nestle-Aland starts the third paragraph with v. 21 which incorporates the following three verses (22–24). THGNT ends the previous paragraph with v. 21, thus implicitly distinguishing the instructions to wives from the concluding adverbial participle, which would make that participle dependent on the command to be filled by the Spirit (πληροῦσθε in v. 18). This is indeed the paragraph break found in Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus. Vaticanus incorporates a much longer section as its paragraph (P46 has no ekthesis or paragraph notation for Ephesians). But the question is raised whether the break at v. 22 is due, in part, to the editorial decision to include υποτασσεσθωσαν in 5.22—in spite of our two earliest witnesses to this text—B and P46—lacking any verb for the verse.

The editors, as a rule, always base their text on at least two Greek manuscripts, and one of these must be from the fifth century or earlier (THGNT, 506; the Apocalypse is the only exception to the rule of having at least one early manuscript). This is in keeping with the strong documentary basis for this edition of the NT. This principle, however, seems to create some inconsistencies, one of which was noted above. It seems in fact that the documentary principle is often pitted against the recovery-of-the-original-wording principle. Many scholars today would question whether such a strong emphasis on the external evidence should be followed religiously. Readings such as Ιησουν and Ιησουν τον in Matt 27.16, 17 respectively, οργισθεις in Mark 1.41, εχομεν in Rom 5.1, and χωρις in Heb 2.9 are rejected by the editors in spite of strong internal support for these variants. Yet they have ηπιοι in 1 Thess 2.7 even though this is poorly attested among the earliest Greek witnesses.

The apparatus is barebones and intentionally so. The editors want this work to focus on the text. They include variants of just three sorts: (1) viable, (2) exegetically important, and (3) those that illustrate scribal practices (THGNT, 515). The textual commentary on the decisions in this Greek New Testament is eagerly anticipated.

I was of course happy to see acknowledgment of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (www.CSNTM.org) as one of the main Internet sites that the editors utilized for reading digitized images of the manuscripts (THGNT, 526).

Criticism is easier than construction, and the editors of the THGNT are to be commended for offering a significant alternative to the Nestle-Aland text—and one which is still based on the principles of reasoned eclecticism. This volume joins the work of Michael Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (2010), as a viable option for students learning New Testament Greek. THGNT depends more on external evidence while GNTSBL leans more toward internal, yet both are well within the broadly consensus method of NT textual criticism as it is practiced today. Of course, nothing can replace the decades of careful research that Münster has poured into their apparatus, but these two editions (Holmes and Tyndale) are important offerings; they help students of the New Testament realize that the Textus Receptus status of the Nestle-Aland text may still be a bit premature.

Book Notice: Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus, by Brian J. Wright

One of my former interns, colleague on some CSNTM expeditions, and a DTS alumnus, Brian Wright, has written a book on ancient book culture that has been labeled ‘groundbreaking,’ ‘seminal,’ and ‘a must read’ by several scholars in the field. It is already getting some serious attention-—even before publication. For example, Larry Hurtado, who wrote the Foreword for the book, noted it in a recent blog post he titled, “Is a Paradigm Shift Now Called for?

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 The book not only is wide ranging in its research, it is also wide ranging in the endorsements from scholars of the New Testament and Early Christianity. The names comprise a Who’s Who in the field: Richard Bauckham, Michael Bird, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, James Harrison, Craig Keener, Wayne Meeks Alan Millard, Stanley Porter, Brian Rosner, Tom Schreiner, and Bruce Winter.

Brian has constructed a compelling case that communal reading events were a wide-spread phenomenon in the first century AD. If he is correct, this could overturn or at least seriously alter the consensus of the discipline in several areas, including textual transmission, oral performance, and ancient literacy. It’s an innovative and significant contribution from an up-and-coming New Testament scholar!

Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus is scheduled to be released on December 1. This would make a great Christmas present for all the nerds out there who are serious about historical issues related to the New Testament. You can pre-order a copy of it on Amazon.

Wittenberg at 500

Wittenberg, Tuesday, October 31, 2017: The 500th anniversary of the Reformation in this little hamlet that was once the intellectual hub of Saxony and beyond. Reformation Day was a big event (even Angela Merkel made an appearance), and I was there with my bride. My third visit to Lutherstadt. The crowds swelled, especially close to the Schlosskirche and the town square. The day before and after, the town was virtually empty.

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How many of the celebrants really knew what the Reformation was all about? Sure, it changed western civilization, gave modern man the Bible in his own language—one that was based on the original tongues, delivered to the Renaissance a swift kick in the derriere, moved toward integrating science and religion and bringing both out of the middle ages (which were, in many ways, still the dark ages), elevated the education levels of children throughout Europe, established biblical scholarship on a new plane, inaugurated critical thinking of the Bible, added to the scientific method, built hospitals, toppled governments, granted individuals their God-ordained dignity, began to produce the wealth of nations, instigated the Protestant work ethic, and increased learning of the arts, science, history, and literature like no other period before or since has ever done.

But what did it ultimately do? It was begun by a lone Augustinian monk, standing up against the world, who articulated that salvation is free, and it comes by faith alone in Christ alone. Simul iustus et peccator (“at the same time, just and a sinner”) was the slogan based on Rom 3.23–24, and it’s still true today. The greatest good that Luther did was to remind us all of God’s grace and the redemption that we find in Christ alone. One lone monk changed the world because he had the courage of his convictions and believed that his God would not deny him. How about we change the world again—just one of us, or more (!)—and remind people of God’s grace, of the sacrifice that his own Son made on our behalf and in our stead, so that by the merit of Christ’s life and death alone—not ours—our eternal life is secured.

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The clarion call of the Reformation is as desperately needed today as it ever was, yet after 500 years it has become muddled once again. And many evangelicals nowadays are denying the very roots of the Reformation—the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our accounts, our Lord suffering God’s wrath in our place on the cross, salvation as a free gift (not based on our works), Scripture as our final authority, the exaltation of Christ.

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Sure, Luther got a lot wrong. His hot-headedness got him in trouble often, and many times unnecessarily so. But that same passion is exactly what was needed at the Diet of Worms. However, he also kept Erasmus from joining the ranks of the Reformers in spite of the priest’s own arguments with Rome. He needed a Melanchthon to temper him, to be the quiet, peaceful, intellectual force behind the Reformation. Luther’s worst offense was what he wrote about the Jews in his later years (On the Jews and Their Lies [1543]). It was ugly, un-Christian, hate speech. The Jüdensau is still in the same spot it has occupied for over 700 years—up high in the southeast corner of St. Mary’s Church—the first Protestant church—where Luther preached hundreds of times.

But let us not use Luther’s very flawed nature as an excuse to turn a deaf ear to his gospel proclamation. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants today, but those giants more often than not had clay feet. And their very failings remind us that, of all the men and women who have ever lived, Christ alone is worthy of all honor.

Will another lone Christ-follower stand up today? Just think what one person can do if fear is not part of their vocabulary!

15th Anniversary of CSNTM

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The concept for the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts began long before it became an official non-profit organization. In my sabbatical at Cambridge University in 1995 I logged many happy weeks at the University Library examining New Testament manuscripts. Peter Head then of Tyndale House, Cambridge, and I even spent a day poring over Codex Cantabrigiensis, a fifth-century codex that had been donated to the University in 1581 by Theodore Beza. Digital photography was starting to have an impact in the late 90s. Dr. Hall Harris (CSNTM board member) urged me to start my own institute for examining and photographing NT manuscripts. The need was great: only microfilms were available for most NT manuscripts, and the quality was abysmal. Frequently, the text was illegible on these microfilms, and virtually all marginal notes by the scribes were way too blurry to read. Our knowledge, therefore, of the NT manuscripts was, in each instance, almost always incomplete. Once 4 megapixel digital cameras were produced, the time was right to found a new institute. Digital photography ushered in a new era of textual study: for the first time, these manuscripts would be easily accessible and read with great clarity…. To view the entire article, visit CSNTM.