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Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism Paperback – May 1, 1995
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About the Author
J. Harold Greenlee is professor of New Testament Greek, a missionary with OMS International, and an International Translation Consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He is also the author of A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek.
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There are eight chapters, an appendix, supplementary readings, selected bibliography and two indexes (persons and subjects, scripture references). There are also six plates (pictures) of Greek manuscripts.
This book is for those who know basic Greek. There are some Greek words in his discussions. It is a revised edition of the first edition in the 1960s. There were mostly minor except for two areas. The order of presentation of internal evidence was changed. The other was the use of UBS Greek NT as the basic referent text.
The book though about 20 years old is very helpful in understanding the facts and principles of textual criticism in the following discussions covered.
The discussion in paleography with the materials (to write on, to write with and book forms) and handwriting styles (including abbreviations) contributed in knowing about ancient documents.
Second, the discussion about sources of textual criticism (though dated in terms of the latest count or numbers of manuscripts) provided valuable information that we have Greek manuscripts in various forms, early Bible versions (in several languages) and patristic quotations mostly in Greek and Latin. It was not exhaustively discussed but sufficient to give an idea what the sources are.
Third, the transmission of the text listed the sources of the textual variants that would be helpful in the practice of textual criticism though short but will suffice to inform beginners.
Fourth the discussion of the printed text and the critical text are helpful in seeing the historical development of putting a single text of the Greek NT and also the ideology (or theory) behind it.
Lastly the explanation of the procedure of textual criticism that includes several examples of NT passages is helpful in understanding the application of such a process.
There are several things I hope that gets updated or revised for a third edition.
First, I think it would be good to have the number of manuscripts count be within the last 5 years though the class professor can (and should) take care of this in the lectures and notes.
Second, with the availability of UBS 5th edition, the Nestle Aland 28th edition and the SBL edition by Holmes, how to read the critical apparatus of each of these recent editions would be helpful (though this can also be taken care and updated in class by the professor).
Third, I think it would have been good to include a brief discussion of various views of dealing with textual criticism. With this, even if this book will take a certain approach in resolving passages with textual variants. The defense of Textus Receptus was briefly discussed and it was somewhat dismissive in its rebuttal (even if valid).
This book will indeed help a beginner to understand the important discipline of textual criticism. In a beginning class (with subsequent or another class), this can help as one of the textbooks. But if textual criticism is just part of a class like a Greek exegesis course, this book can serve as a teacher’s resource or just a recommended reading. If someone is not taking a class and just wanted an exposure of what textual criticism is all about, David Black’s NT Textual Criticism book is better.
He wrote in the Preface, “This book is a primer. It does not seek to make a contribution to the knowledge of those who are already scholars of New Testament textual criticism. The aim of this book is simply to present the facts and principles of New Testament textual criticism that are generally accepted. It will have fulfilled its purpose if it succeeds in presenting these facts and principles in a manner that will enable the beginning student to understand them and to begin to make his way in this intriguing and important field…”
He states, “Alongside the uncial [i.e., all capital letters] or literary hand there existed a style of writing used for non-literary materials known as cursive… Cursive writing was used for personal correspondences, business and legal papers, and such matters… It seems likely, therefore, that the originals of the letters of St. Paul were written in a cursive hand, since they were written as personal letters and not as formal literature… Almost as soon as they began to be copied, however, they would take on the character of literature and would be copied in the uncial hand of literature. If there were cursive mss. of some of the N.T. writings in the first century, however, none are known. In the early part of the ninth century the cursive hand was somewhat modified and formalized into a miniscule or ‘small letter’ style deemed suitable for books and literature… Approximately nine-tenths of the extant Greek N.T. mss. Are from the miniscule period.” (Pg. 27-29) Later, he adds, Approximately 95 percent of the existing mss. of the N.T. are from the eighth and later centuries, and very few of these differ appreciably from the Byzantine text. This means that the witnesses for the pre-Byzantine text of the N.T. consist of a relatively small percentage of the mss., mostly from the period earlier than the eighth century.” (Pg. 62)
He explains, “The autographs (originals) of the N.T. books are a hypothetical source only, since none are extant. If they were available, N.T. textual criticism would be unnecessary, since the original text would then be read directly… The earliest extant witnesses to the N.T. text are the papyrus mss. Over seventy papyrus mss. are now known and identified. Their contents vary from a scrap containing three of four verses to mss. containing most of Luke, John, and Acts, and others containing extensive parts of the Pauline epistles, Catholic epistles, and Revelation. Most of the papyri come from the second through the fourth centuries, although some are later.” (Pg. 33-34)
He says of the Syriac version [the “Peshitta,” meaning “simple”] that “It apparently dates from the beginning of the fifth century or earlier… The Peshitta contained all of the N.T. books except 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Revelation. These were omitted because they were not recognized as canonical by the Syrian church.” (Pg. 48)
He observes, “Although the same basic principles were at work in the transmission of the text of the N.T. and that of the secular classics, there were nevertheless certain factors which resulted in significant differences between the two. In the very earliest period, the N.T. writings were more nearly “private” writings than were the classics. This was particularly true of the epistles, but to a less extent it was true of the narrative books as well. The N.T. books were copied and circulated for different reasons than were the classics. Further, whereas the classics were commonly---although not always---copied by professional scribes, the N.T. books were probably usually copied by Christians who were not professionally trained for the task, and no corrector… was employed to check the copyist’s work against his exemplar… In the case of the N.T. books in the very earliest period of their history the message was of paramount importance rather than such matters as word order and other details which would not affect the meaning. It appears that copyists sometimes even took the liberty to add or change details in the narrative books on the basis of personal knowledge, alternative tradition, or a parallel account in another book of the Bible… Finally, the expectation of Christ’s imminent return was probably sufficiently prevalent among the earliest Christians that they would not be acutely concerned to preserve their books for distant centuries.” (Pg. 59-60)
He admits, “Variants came into the N.T. at a very early stage, at which time scribes felt free to change the text, especially the Gospels, in accordance with other traditions which were in circulation or to agree with a parallel account, or to substitute synonyms, paraphrase a sentence, and to make other variations. Thus by the end of the second century the ‘Western’ text had arisen, characterize by extensive variation from the original text. Although this text is very early in origin, the principles of intrinsic probability weight against it in general. It is generally longer than the preferred text… a reading with only Western support cannot be accepted without some reservation.” (Pg. 80)
He criticizes Textus Receptus (aka “King James Only”) advocates such as J.W. Burgon ]: “until the invention of printing the Church had never followed a rigidly uniform text; many variants were always present within the mss. used by the Church down through the centuries… That the traditional text was intrinsically superior was more nearly a matter of subjective opinion; but extensive comparison of text-types has left most scholars convinced that the late text is in general inferior, not superior. With the death of Burgon and Miller serious scholarly support of the [Textus Receptus] virtually ceased… there is no longer any question of accepting the T.R. as such.” (Pg. 81-82) [Which is not to say that there are not vigorous defenders of the KJV; e.g., New Age Bible Versions,Defending the King James Bible,Which Bible?,The Christian's Handbook of Manuscript Evidence, etc.]
This is an excellent, well-balanced, scholarly introduction to the subject, that will be of great value to anyone studying this area.