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J. K. Elliott and Ian Moir. Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament: An Introduction for English Readers. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995. ISBN: 0-567-29298-3. Pp. x+111+12 plates. US $13.95.

1. Many have puzzled over the words 'some manuscripts have ...' appearing in the footnotes of their New Testaments. Ian Moir set out to write an introduction to NT textual criticism which would penetrate these mysteries. He assumed that his audience would have no more than a knowledge of English. Unfortunately, Moir died while the project was only partly finished, and it fell to J. K. Elliott to complete the task.

2. The book is divided into five chapters: 1) 'The Art of Textual Criticism', which defines the meaning of criticism in this context and gives an overview of the reasons it is required and the extent to which it can hope to be successful; 2) 'The New Testament in Greek', which describes manuscripts, collations, variants and critical editions, Church Fathers, versions, and textual families; 3) 'Editing the New Testament Text', which introduces a range of guiding principles used to choose between variants in the quest for the original text; 4) 'Textual Problems', in which reasons and motives giving rise to variation are explained and the art of choosing a reading is taught using a wide variety of actual variants and the newly acquired critical tools; and 5) 'Textual Criticism Past, Present and Future', which plots the course of New Testament textual research from the early Fathers through to Erasmus and the ascendancy of the Textus Receptus, followed by the pioneers of the modern critical era, the golden age of Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort, leading to the present, with its many significant ongoing efforts, and looking to the future where those idiot savants, the computers, may help to make sense of the increasing resources at hand.

3. An up-to-date bibliography and a good glossary of technical terms are also included. The twelve plates show examples of papyrus, uncial and minuscule manuscripts, a picture of Saint Catherine's Monastery, and pages from some of the more important critical editions.

4. Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament now joins a number of recent books that seek to introduce the subject of New Testament textual criticism. The most comprehensive of these are the well-known reference editions of Metzger (Metzger 1992, 310 pp.) and the Alands (Aland and Aland 1989, 366 pp.). To these might be added Frederic G. Kenyon's The Text of the Greek Bible (Kenyon 1975, 275 pp.), which still has a contribution to make despite its age. Following these in order of general completeness are Vaganay and Amphoux's An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Vaganay and Amphoux 1991, 227 pp.), Comfort's The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament (Comfort 1992, 200 pp.), Greenlee's Scribes, Scrolls and Scriptures (Greenlee 1985, 102 pp.), and Black's New Testament Textual Criticism (Black 1994, 79 pp.).

5. The two reference editions are full accounts of manuscripts, the transmission history of the text from the early Christian era until now, the instruments and praxis of modern New Testament textual criticism, and they provide copious references. As such, they are essential to the serious New Testament textual researcher. Vaganay and Amphoux is strong in its treatment of versions and critical methodology, has a very useful bibliography, and serves to make one aware of the advances of textual criticism in France. Comfort gives good coverage to the earlier manuscripts, especially the papyri, and the relationships among them. His 'earliest is best' approach is not widely held, but the book makes for a lively read and deals with early transmission theory, mentioning useful references along the way.

6. Greenlee's and Black's guides are aimed at the serious Bible student. They address ancient book production, corruption introduced through copying, and restoration of the text by application of the canons of textual criticism. Greenlee's introduction, while compact, is enriched by his knowledge and experience of the field. Black's introduction, although smaller still, is modern, concise and practical, and it includes a template in an appendix that facilitates the evaluation of particular readings in a variation unit. Use of this template requires that the student translate Greek. It may come as a surprise to discover that this is one of the few places where a lack of Greek would be a serious hindrance to following the line of reasoning in any of these volumes.

7. I would locate Manuscripts and the Text of the New Testament just below Vaganay and Amphoux with respect to completeness. It is more than a guide but stops short of having the reference power of Metzger, Aland and Aland, and, for particular areas, Vaganay and Amphoux. This is to be expected considering that it does not claim to be a reference, only an introduction. Its logical arrangement could make it a suitable basis for a short course on textual criticism, but it may be that Black's or Greenlee's guide would better serve this purpose.

8. As for deficiencies, comparison with the previously-mentioned books shows that this one does not devote much space to the New Testament text's early transmission history. Perhaps this is because Elliott, as a 'thorough-going eclectic', does not place much importance on such matters. If so, then his conscious effort to remain neutral on questions of method has faltered here. The descriptive lists of Greek manuscripts are quite cursory except for the major uncials, and a student would have to consult one of the references for more information on the others. There are very few typographical errors. The only ones I noted are at the bottom of page 86 where codex B is numbered 02 instead of 03 and codex C is 03 instead of 04. One last oversight, for which the only excuse is a lack of prophetic power, is the book's failure to mention the electronic textual criticism list (tc-list) and the Electronic New Testament Manuscripts Project. Given its eagerness to show that textual criticism is alive and vigorous at the end of the twentieth century, I venture to say that these would have been included had this volume been published now instead of a year ago.

9. By way of strengths, the level of content and its contemporary nature make this book a suitable introductory text for theological students who may or may not proceed further in New Testament textual research. Not only does it provide an adequate basis for novices, but the wealth of its authors' experience combines to make it useful for old hands as well. A fair hearing is given to current schools of editorial thought, whether inclined towards eclectic or majority texts. After reading this book, students will have a balanced insight into the phenomenon of textual variation and the current state of New Testament textual criticism, and they will be able to decide what to do with a variant text without fear of having been given a narrow or biased methodological perspective.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1996.


Aland, Kurt, and Aland, Barbara 1989. The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. 2d ed. Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Black, David Alan 1994. New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Comfort, Philip Wesley 1992. The Quest for the Original Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Greenlee, J. Harold 1985. Scribes, Scrolls, and Scripture: A Student's Guide to New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Kenyon, Frederic G. 1975. The Text of the Greek Bible. 3d ed. Revised and augmented by A.W. Adams. London: Duckworth.

Metzger, Bruce M. 1992. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. 3d ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vaganay, Léon, and Amphoux, Christian-Bernard 1991. An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. 2d ed. Translated by Jenny Heimerdinger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tim Finney
Baptist Theological College of Western Australia