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Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior:

A Non-Specialist's Perspective

Peter H. Davids
Schloss Mittersill Study Center
Mittersill, Austria

1. Let me differentiate my own perspective from that of other members of this panel. I am not an expert on the NT text; I know relatively little about how one goes about creating a critical edition like the one we are examining today. However, I am an exegete who writes commentaries and thus is very interested in the quality of the product.

2. What issues interest me as an exegete? Naturally, I want the resulting text to be accurate, but I have not seen the manuscripts, so the text's accuracy would be difficult for me to judge other than through reviews by those who are experts in this field. There is a certain amount of trust that the exegete must have in the textual specialist. At the same time, this edition gives one as honest a picture of the manuscripts as one could get without having an ungainly book of photo-reproductions. That is, we are informed when certain manuscripts have lacunae or are unreadable or might be construed to support either of two readings. This means that I feel that I am interpreting as accurate a set of data as is possible without studying the manuscripts myself.

3. This observation leads to what is most important to me in a critical text, namely, (1) completeness of the evidence, particularly in terms of the variant readings, and (2) clarity of the presentation. There is no reason to have information I either cannot read or I might easily misunderstand. Yet clarity without completeness might leave me missing significant options.

4. In reviewing this work I went to my own commentary on the Greek text of James (Davids 1982) and picked out the 30 times that I chose to comment on textual issues. These are hardly unbiased or necessarily representative. I note, for instance, that the issue in Jas 2:3 that interests Prof. Aland is not included. Yet these did give me a relatively even coverage of the epistle and allowed me to use the new edition to check a discussion that had already been initiated.

5. In terms of completeness, I was more than pleased. Let me note several instances. In Jas 1:17 A. Schlatter had emended the text to read h trophj aposkiasmatoj. That reading should no longer be considered an emendation, for it appears in one or two manuscripts, even though neither I nor the editors consider it the best reading. Turning to Jas 2:19 I found several more variants for eij estin o qeoj than I had noticed before, which increase in variants also happened concerning the initial phrase in Jas 5:10. In three places the addition of P100 added support to the reading in the text (Jas 4:2, 4, 9). Thus wherever I looked at this edition it was at least as complete as my previous research, and in several of these random examples it added to my knowledge.

6. When I came to consider clarity of presentation, I felt in general that this work is wonderful. I rechecked my evaluation of textual information at several places. I noted variants I had not discussed in Jas 1:5 and 1:9 and quickly saw why I had not chosen to discuss them. In Jas 1:3 I thought that I might have discussed another variant than I did had I had this edition. And this was the story throughout the work. Once I got used to the new symbols (including those for Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Vaticanus: 01, 02, and 03 instead of ), A, and B, respectively; the ECM uses Gregory-Aland numbers--rather than Hebrew, English, and Greek letters--for all uncials) I found in each passage that I looked at that I could quickly evaluate the textual information. It is not that this necessarily solved any of the issues; in some places, such as the end of 1:17, the text of James is just not that clear. But at least I could quickly see what the nature of the lack of clarity was.

7. It is not that this presentation of data was perfect. In Jas 4:14 I would have preferred it if to thj aurion had been treated as a phrase and poia had been on the same page. And in Jas 5:20 I found it quite confusing looking for the variants at the beginning of the verse only to find that they were on the facing page because they had been treated as a single phrase along with the last words of the previous verse. But the information was there once I figured out how it was being presented, and these two less clear passages are less clear than the rest of a very clear book. Two out of 30 is not a bad ratio, especially when at least 6 of the 30 had a clear presentation with more information than I had previously had.

8. It is also pleasing to me that I have both extensive coverage of textual variants and intensive coverage of the variants in the same place in a readable format. Before this I would use the Nestle-Aland text to help me scan all of the variants in a given verse and then switch to the UBS text that gave me the greater number of witnesses for variants it chose to include. Furthermore, the UBS type was larger and more readable. Now I can have it all in one book, although it is not a book that will fit into my pocket or be easy to thumb through on a lectern, so the other editions are far from being replaced. Still, for detailed study I only need one volume.

9. A final observation that it is relatively easy to make is that of what puzzled early interpreters. The tenth century writer of 1175 corrects Jas 2:24 to be rather Pauline. Had he been reading a lot of Paul and simply slipped, or was he trying correct James' theology? We may never know if he was an early Luther or not, since he did not make similar changes in Jas 2:21 or 2:22. One suspects that Athanasius may have had a reason for reading "God is" rather than "God is one" at Jas 2:19 (although the reading is in his disputed work De virginitate). Those reading there "one God is" may well have read the text in terms of philosophical denials of deity rather than in terms of the Shema(. At times we can watch a need to clarify the text, an early commentator, so to speak. Jas 2:25 is a case in point where perhaps to clarify the term aggelouj some from the tenth to sixteenth century who were careful biblical scholars added tou israhl, while others (including a marginal reading in the Syriac Harklensis) added ihsou. It would be interesting to know whether these latter were referring to Joshua, and thus fall into the biblical scholar category, or more piously to Jesus, or perhaps intended a double meaning.

10. It is clear, however, that a whole host of scribes did not read James in terms of its Old Testament background, for when an early copyist inserted "adulterers and" before "adultresses" in Jas 4:4 the majority of the manuscript tradition followed suit. This early attempt at gender inclusive language reveals something of a literalist mindset. Other texts that are truly difficult bothered the copyists rather little. Jas 4:5 has several attempts to clarify it, but they are found in only one manuscript each.

11. One could continue with such observations, and if one knew how manuscripts were related to one another or exactly where each came from, one could perhaps develop these patterns further. Yet what impressed me was the ease with which I made these previously cited observations.

12. In short, this edition is certainly the tool of choice for the exegete who is doing a detailed study of the Greek text of James. In my eyes it passed both of the tests, that of completeness of information and that of clarity of presentation, as well as presenting other information. Had I had it when writing my commentary, I would certainly have kept it close at hand and my work would have been the better for it. Unfortunately, however, many of the more difficult texts in James are not helped; this work simply makes it clear that there is no other option than to try to interpret the text as it stands and face the difficulties it contains, unless one wishes to emend the text by conjecturing changes which happened during the 200 or so years before the earliest manuscripts (roughly contemporary with the first clear citation of James, that of Origen).

13. Now, given my present work, my question is, When are the installments on 2 Peter and on Jude coming out?

Chart of the Passages Examined
PassageGreek Text Used in CommentaryCommentary ReferenceComment
1:3to\ doki/mion u9mw~n th=j pi/stewj68
1:5ai0tei/tw para_ tou= dido/ntoj qeou= pa~sin a(plw~jNot in commentaryTest of quick evaluation
1:9o9 a)delfo\j o9 tapeino\j e0n tw~| u3yei au0tou=Not in commentaryTest of quick evaluation
1:17par) w{| ou0k e1ni parallagh\ h2 troph=j a)poski/asma91Schlatter's emendation found in ECM
1:19i1ste, a)delfoi/ mou a)gaphtoi/91
1:19e1stw de\ pa~j a!nqrwpoj91
1:27a!spilon e9auto\n threi=n a)po\ tou= ko/smou103
2:3su\ sth=qi e0kei= h2 ka&qou u9po\ to\ u9popo/dio/n mouAlandCited in the paper; ECM reads su\ sth=qi h2 ka&qou e0kei= u9po\ to\ u9popo/dio/n mou
2:5tou\j ptwxou\j tw~| ko/smw|112
2:19ei]j e0stin o9 qeo/j125More readings than in commentary
2:20a)rgh/ e0stin126
3:3ei0 de\138Clearer than in commentary
3:5kai\ mega&la au0xei=140
3:8a)kata&staton kako/n145
3:12ou1te a(luko\n gluku\ poih=sai u3dwr148
3:14ei0 de\151
3:14mh\ katakauxa~sqe kai\ yeu/desqe kata_ th=j a)lhqei/aj151
4:2ma&xesqe kai\ polemei=te, kai\ ou0k e1xete158P100 data supports commentary; ECM reads ma&xesqe kai\ polemei=te, ou0k e1xete
4:4moicali/dej160P100 data supports commentary
4:5to\ pneu=ma o4 katw&|kisen e0n h9mi=n163
4:9metatraph/tw168P100 data supports commentary
4:12o9 kri/nwn to\n plhsi/on170
4:13sh/meron h2 au1rion172
4:14to\ th=j au1rion poi/a h9 zwh\ u9mw~n172Phrase is broken up in ECM
4:15e0a_n o9 ku/rioj qelh/sh| kai\ zh/somen kai\ poih/somen173
5:4o9 a)pesterhme/noj a)f u9mw~n kra&zei177
5:7makroqumw~n e0p au0tw~|, e3wj la&bh| pro/i:mon kai\ o1yimon183
5:8makroqumh/sate kai\ u9mei=j184
5:10th=j kakopaqei/aj kai\ th=j makroqumi/aj186More variants in ECM
5:11kai\ to\ te/loj kuri/ou ei1dete187
5:19planhqh=| a)po\ th=j a)lhqei/aj kai\199
5:20ginwske/tw o3ti o9 e0pistre/yaj a(martwlo\n e0k pla&nhj o9dou= au0tou=199Grouped with previous verse
5:20sw&sei yuxh\n au0tou= e0k qana&tou kai\ kalu/yei plh=qoj a(martiw~n200

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 of the Editio Critica Maior), Bart D. Ehrman, D. C. Parker, William L. Petersen, and Klaus Wachtel (co-editor) 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.