This article is also available in text-only format.

Response to Four Reviews of the James Volume of the Editio Critica Maior

Klaus Wachtel
Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung
Münster, Germany
Co-Editor, Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior

1. Above all, we have to thank the reviewers for the scrutiny of testing the reliability of the apparatus and for the largely positive assessment of our work. In response, I would like to deal with some points of more general interest and principal importance, leaving aside for the moment the suggested improvements and corrections in details.

Response to Peter H. Davids

2. It was particularly encouraging to hear Peter Davids, author of a commentary on James (Davids 1982), say that the edition meets the requirements of exegetes (Davids 1998: par. 12), because that's the group of users we primarily had in mind when we planned the setup of the edition.

Response to D. C. Parker

3. We are also pleased to see that David Parker succeeded in using the edition for a procedure for which it was not designed, namely the reconstruction of the text of a manuscript (Parker 1998: par. 6). Improvements concerning the correctors of Sinaiticus are certainly possible (par. 4), but I think no ECM will ever preclude one from using special editions for special studies.

4. But the demand for an edition that refrains from distinguishing between variants and errors (pars. 7-8) shows an understanding of the tasks of an editor that is totally different from ours. Our aim is a critical edition, and this means, among other standards, that its critical apparatus should be the result of a critical sifting of readings that may be regarded as transmitted and readings that attest to nothing but scribal blunders. Quite to the contrary of David's opinion, I don't hesitate to state that it is one of the virtues of our edition that obvious scribal slips--that is, grammatically or logically wrong readings--are banished from the critical apparatus. The faults are meticulously recorded in the supplement. Thus, the verifiability of our decisions is guaranteed. Moreover, David's demand leads to another one: to include as well the most frequent kinds of vowel interchange (itacism and the like). The demand for "the physical evidence of what was written" may be met by transcripts or photographs. A critical edition is not an appropriate medium for that kind of display. And would it really be "the purely scientific treatment ... to present the material undifferentiated" (par. 8)? In my opinion, the opposite is true, and all that was praised about the edition was achieved by differentiating the evidence.

Response to Bart D. Ehrman

5. Another process of decision making is the selection of manuscripts (Ehrman 1998: pars. 9-11). Most of the witnesses of the medieval, or Byzantine, text differ from each other only by individual scribal slips. It is a well-known fact that the Byzantine tradition was controlled so carefully that sometimes the goal of producing identical copies was only scarcely missed. It would make no sense to include hundreds of such manuscripts in the apparatus. They don't contribute data important for the establishment of the original text or the study of the history of the text in the first millenium, and the apparatus would be swamped with irrelevant matter, were we to refrain from carrying out an eliminatio codicum.

6. Can we guarantee that the selection will really represent the entire tradition? I admit that the claim that Bart Ehrman quoted from the Introduction (par. 9) might have been formulated a bit more carefully. But still, we can guarantee that the tradition of the first millenium is adequately represented, because all known witnesses relevant for the study of this epoch are included in the apparatus.

7. The Byzantine text itself is also represented by a range of particularly pure Byzantine manuscripts, lectionaries, and many manuscripts deviating only rarely from the Byzantine text. There are nearly 100 manuscripts of this kind. This proves that we did not restrict ourselves by any means to non-Byzantine manuscripts. Our edition may be found insufficient for studying the late Byzantine text. But there is a high degree of probability derived from thousands of test and full collations that manuscripts clearly Byzantine do not contain other than Byzantine readings and individual scribal aberrations.

8. Why, then, are there "Additional Greek readings" in the supplement? They have been recorded simply because we didn't wish to hold back or discard information on the manuscript tradition gathered by others or for other purposes. The additional readings give a valid impression of what would be gained by the effort of including each and every manuscript. They could not persuade us to collate in full the manuscripts containing them.

9. But in spite of all this, yes, I concede that once and again Byzantine manuscripts attest to old, non-Byzantine readings. As a rule, those readings are known already from other sources. The possibility that a single Byzantine manuscript contains a possibly original reading not otherwise attested is nearly zero.

Response to William L. Petersen

10. Bill Petersen is certainly right in marking the sentence about readings attested exclusively by a Father as questionable (Petersen 1998: par. 21). But I would like to say two things about it. First, it expresses the consequence rather than the criterion. The decisive factor is the degree of probability that the quotation allows the reconstruction of a reading that once had its place in the manuscript tradition. Secondly, I agree that the element of subjectivity in these decisions is hard to control, and that it would be a great advantage to record not only the references for citations included in the apparatus but also of those excluded (par. 23). In the supplement of the next installment we will add a list of further readings derived from patristic quotations which may reflect readings of the manuscript tradition.

11. Moreover, although I doubt that the sum total of variants per page will be higher in Acts or the Gospels, I agree that we should make more extensive use of electronic media in publishing works like our edition (par. 29). I'm sure that Bill Petersen is right in assuming that we will be forced to relieve the paper edition by extensive supplements in electronic form and that we should try to find a way to publish our databases on CD or online.

This paper is a revision of a presentation given to the New Testament Textual Criticism Section of the Society of Biblical Literature at the 1997 annual meeting in San Francisco, Michael W. Holmes, presiding. Presentations by Barbara Aland (general editor, Editio Critica Maior), Peter H. Davids, Bart D. Ehrman, D. C. Parker, and William L. Petersen also appear in this issue of TC. See also the critique of the volume by J. K. Elliott.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998.


Aland, Barbara; Aland, Kurt; Mink, Gerd; and Wachtel, Klaus, eds. (for the Institute for New Testament Textual Research), 1997. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior. Vol. IV: Catholic Letters. Installment 1: James. Part 1: Text; Part 2: Supplementary Material. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

Davids, Peter H. 1982. The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Davids, Peter H. 1998. "Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: A Non-Specialist's Perspective." In TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 3.

Ehrman, Bart D. 1998. "Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation." In TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 3.

Parker, D. C. 1998. "A Critique of the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior." In TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 3.

Petersen, William L. 1998. "Some Remarks on the First Volume (The Epistle of James) of the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior." In TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 3.