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A Critique of the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior

D. C. Parker
University of Birmingham

1. When I think of critical editions of the New Testament, I divide them into two groups: the first is significant for its text, the second for its apparatus. Westcott and Hort is an example of the former, Tischendorf of the latter. We welcome here the first instalment of an edition which has the potential to give us both and congratulate the editors on bringing this task to fruition.

2. We may see at once that it contains a number of innovations:

This last not only saves space but also combines with the citation of witnesses to the a reading so as to provide the flexibility that is desirable in the citation of versional and patristic evidence. With these two features it is possible without damaging the logic of the edition to provide this class of evidence only where it supports a reading. This avoids the risk of an argument from silence leading to the assumption that a father or version supports the text.

3. All in all, the features of the construction of this apparatus are splendid and a major advance for our discipline. Imitation is the sincerest flattery, and the International Greek New Testament Project will be thinking very carefully about the construction of its final apparatus to the Gospel of John. The proof of a pudding is in the eating, though, and the proof of an apparatus criticus is in its usability and accuracy. I therefore decided in this presentation to study certain detailed aspects of the apparatus as a way of finding out how it works, how convenient it is to use, and how reliable it is. But first I must express my concern at one problem for English-speaking users of the edition. I refer to the English translation of the Introduction, for there are several places where it does not accurately give the meaning of the German.1 The problem is most acute when one comes to examine the German and English translations of versional evidence. A translation for these purposes must be precise to the point of unidiomatic English. What we have here is useless, and potentially misleading.2

4. I turn now to my wanderings in the apparatus. I began with Codex Sinaiticus and its correctors, working through the facsimile and comparing what I saw there with Tischendorf's 8th edition and the ECM. Immediately, one finds that the nomenclature is simplified. The first group of correctors is called C1, the group known traditionally as the C correctors are C2, and the medieval corrections are simply C. This, by the way, means that there is no possibility of using C without a number to indicate a correction which cannot been ascribed to any particular one. Also, by the way, I was surprised to find that the first group of correctors is dated as 'fourth to sixth centuries' (p. B7). I had thought that everyone agreed with Milne and Skeat's judgement that these corrections all come from Scribes A and D and are therefore incontestably from the fourth century. It soon became apparent that scribal alterations are represented in one of two possible ways. A substitution is indicated by an asterisk for the first hand and C1 or C2 for the corrector. But where the corrector has inserted a word omitted prima manu, this is generally indicated by T for the original omission, and Z for the insertion. The consequence of the use of T and Z is that the information is less complete than one would desire. To establish which corrector had been at work, one would have to go back to Tischendorf or to the Lake facsimile. It seems odd that an addition, where the corrector is often most easily identified, should be expressed in a less determinate manner.

5. In a number of places, and of course this will especially be true of corrections, which frequently remove error, it is also necessary to use what I have mentally named the 'f-list'. This is reasonably easy to do, although the introduction of an extra process can cause confusion in both the compilation and the use. At 4:4, there is such a confusion in the compilation, in a place where Sinaiticus has been corrected twice. A more general problem is exemplified later in the same verse. The first hand wrote exqra; this was corrected by C2 to exqroj. The apparatus presents this by placing the first hand in the f-list, with the ms cited as the correction with no reference to C2, cross-referenced to the f-list as *f3. This may be logical within the structure of the apparatus, but contradicts the logic of our reading of a ms. To present a sixth-century correction as a fourth-century ms's reading is to abandon the historical realities. This form of presentation may have been selected because it places a ms with the other witnesses to the longer unit of variation in which an error belongs. This may be seen at 1:19, where C2 corrected the slip istw to iste. But we are still only given the information that the reading is found in 01, with the first hand in error. Why is not the information that the text is found in C2 also provided? As with the use of T and Z, the edition is deficient in the evidence it provides.3

6. The next test is to try to reconstruct the text of a ms from the apparatus. I did this with James 3 and Codex Sinaiticus. The right way to do this is not to scan the apparatus for references to the witness, but to go to each variant listed below the base text in turn, looking from each to the apparatus to find whether the witness is in the a reading. This proved very straightforward and gave me my reconstruction. I then collated my apparatus against the facsimile to check it, and everything came out right.

7. My summary of these preliminary explorations is that the construction of the apparatus cannot be faulted but that there are problems with the distribution of the material and the way in which it is allocated to particular depositories such as the catalogue of errors. And I think that I know where the problem lies. The Introduction makes a very clear distinction between variants and errors (p. 16*), and the liberal use of the letter 'f' in the apparatus indicates how much the construction of the edition depends on this distinction. This is to bring too great an interpretative role to the compilation of the apparatus. I really do not want to be told that a scribe or a corrector has made a mistake, and what the mistake is. I want to be given the physical evidence of what was written and to interpret it for myself. In addition, the distinction between variants and errors is in my view an artificial one. This is certainly clear with regard to the correctors of Sinaiticus.

8. Thus, although the removal of errors to a separate apparatus seems attractive for the sake of a clearer main apparatus, it proves to be unsatisfactory. The purely scientific treatment would be to present the material undifferentiated. I do not suggest that this would solve the editor's problems. After all, the exclusion of certain types of itacism and orthographical features requires constant decision-making as to the material to be included. But there would not be the treatment of first hand and correctors which we find here.

9. My impressions from undertaking the exercises which I have described above are:

  1. that variants tend to be presented as larger blocks than has often been the case;
  2. that this is to be welcomed;
  3. that the edition is clear and well-laid;
  4. but that there is over-complication in its treatment of lapsus calami and corrections.

10. I can only briefly state my impressions of the way in which readings and lacunae in the papyri are described. A careful study of page 61 showed that it takes a little getting used to. I regret that the list of lacunae does not indicate where in a word a lacuna begins or ends.4 This leaves us wholly dependent on the editors' judgement.

11. Finally, I conclude by asking the question, what are the purposes of a large apparatus criticus, and does this specimen fulfil them? One evident purpose is to provide an accurate and intelligible statement of the evidence relevant to the reconstruction of a text. Another is to provide such a statement of the evidence relevant to the reconstruction of the history of a text. The Editio Critica Maior seems to achieve these purposes. But to us textual critics there is more. The construction of an apparatus criticus is an art worthy of appreciation in its own right. It follows that we will not take it on trust but scrutinise it with the utmost suspicion. Nor will it do away with the need to examine facsimiles, collations and transcriptions, with learned editions of the fathers and of versions. We will still end up with large piles of books all over the room. Professor Tjitze Baarda has shown us on several occasions what fun there may be had in dissecting the IGNTP Luke and displaying the bleeding entrails for our inspection. We are likely to do the same thing with this edition, to shake our heads wisely over a slip, to puzzle over a discrepancy or bewail an omission. But a critical edition is not only about arrival, it is also about travelling hopefully. This edition has been a training ground for collators, for editors. Moreover, it is part of a series of enterprises: Text und Textwert, the New Testament in Syriac, the New Testament on papyrus, Dr. Wachtel's study of the Byzantine text of the Catholic epistles. In short, it has occasioned study and advance and will be the occasion of much more. Our discipline needs large critical editions, and we welcome this one.

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), Peter H. Davids, Bart D. Ehrman, 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.


1Problems with the English translation in the Introduction:

  1. Ut videtur is translated as 'evidently'. The phrase means 'apparently'. 'Apparently' indicates a degree of uncertainty, but 'evidently' suggests that there is on doubt on the matter. This is found on both pages 19* and B4. In addition, on 13* it states that 'This symbol [V] is used in the apparatus only when the evidence in the Father's writings for a reading is not definitive'. This might suggest that the problem is in establishing the father's own text, when in fact the German would be better translated as 'where there is no unequivocal evidence for the reading known to the father'.
  2. On page 14*, a slash where there should be the word 'against' for the German 'gegen' causes confusion (this occurs twice; cf. p. 10*).
  3. The phrase 'meager condition' on page B30 is an odd way of describing a fragmentary manuscript.
  4. Especially confusing is the use of 'defective' and 'defectively' explaining the use of 'f', 'f1' and 'f2' on page B3. 'Fehlerhaft' is accurately translated as 'erroneously' under 'Cf' on the same page and on page 18*. The word 'defective' naturally indicates a lacunose or illegible reading, where what is meant is a nonsense reading (cf. p. B1).

2Problems with the English translation of the versional evidence.The translations are provided on pages B35-B39, referring to places in the apparatus where '?' replaces the letter address or a superscript '>' qualifies a witness. I take three examples from the Latin data. At 1:1. 'scattered abroad' does not adequately render dispersis et peregrinantibus. At 1:16, 'be misled' only approximates to errare. At 3:6, 'polluting' with 'world' as its antecedent does not accurately translate quae maculat, whose antecedent is linguam. Similar approximations occur at 3:3, 7; and 5:9.

3Use of T and Z in the apparatus. This is found at 1:27 insertion of tw; 2:2 insertion of thn; 2:13 insertion of de; 3:14 insertion of kata. However, at 5:3 the insertion of o ioj is indicated by C2.

4Papyri (page 61, Jas 3:14). A papyrus cited as V (ut videtur) is sometimes also listed in the '- list' (those witnesses that cannot be related to any of the cited readings, because they either contain lacunae or are illegible) (e.g., P100 in the variant 12-22), but not always (e.g., P74 in the variant 26). How does one interpret the difference?


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.