Thursday, April 5, 2018

NT Textual Basis Question to Consider

Looking ahead to more information about the Revised New Jerusalem Bible many readers are curious about the base texts used. If it uses the Nestle Aland 28th edition of the Greek New Testament (NA28), it would be the first Catholic translation to do so. (Note: In her recent responses to reader questions, the USCCB's Mary Sperry indicated that the NABRE NT revision team is working from NA28, but that text won't be ready for several more years. We can assume that the SPL's planned revision to the NRSVwill likewise be based on NA28 for the New Testament).

Currently the only major Bible translation to base the NT on NA28 is the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB), the successor to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). This is important, because unlike the past several incremental revisions, for the NA28 "In the Catholic Epistles, the text has been edited in line with the Editio Critica Maior and its use of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). The result is a change in just over 30 places." 

Arguably that's the most concentrated set of changes introduced to the main text of the Greek NT since the 26th edition in 1979. That's when roughly 700 differences made their way by scholarly consensus out of the margins and into the main text of the New Testament. And this time, they're all concentrated in the Catholic Epistles.

SInce the Catholic epistles contain many of the books in the NT that have often proven problematic for Reformation Protestants - even to the point of being disputed - I'd love to know more about what those 30 changes mean for future translations.

Are there any Greek New Testament scholars who could survey the 30 changes in the Catholic Epistles of NA28, and help readers understand them? Ideally, we might compare how those changes played out in a Protestant translation (the CSB) and a Catholic one (presumably the RNJB).

Any takers?

Thanks to Chris for submitting this question for consideration.


Carl Hernz said...

I hope Tim does not mind me answering:
These changes are insignificant to Bible translations in the end.

The "reconstructed" text in the "Catholic Epistles" in Nestle-Aland Novum Testamemtum Greece refers to merely switching out the once variant readings that existed in the margins in previous editions of the Nestle-Aland text up to edition 27 and changing them out in a few places (some 30) where there is now textual evidence to support the variant readings as the main one for the master text.

For instance, most modern translations have followed the variant reading for 2 Peter 2:18 for decades now, and for the first time Nestle-Aland has the variant reading "ONTOS" (really, truly) in the main text instead of "OLIGOS" (indeed). There is now support to place ONTOS into the master text, but most scholars have been using the variant reading for years now anyway (and there is little difference between the two words).

The "Catholic Epistles" have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church, per se. The word "catholic" here means "general" and refers to the audience which they are addressed (Christians in general) and the fact that they are not Pauline in nature. The Catholic Letters are James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John and the letter of Jude.

There is nothing in dispute regarding these reconstructed readings in the Nestle-Aland text because they are based on practices that have been undertaken by both Catholic and Protestant scholars for decades in translation of the New Testament and the latest in critical philological research.

The NestLe-Aland is one of several master New Testament texts used when a translation is made, and no one follows a master text exactly. Translators often choose to flow from one master text to another or to use even obscure readings at times.

And finally, the reason why no other Catholic translations have been using this edition of the Nestle-Aland is merely because it is the latest edition and was unable until recently.

Matthew Doe said...

Interestingly, Wikipedia has a table of conformity of bible translation to NA27:
See the section "Influence" at the bottom.

According to this, the NAB is in the fourth spot concerning agreement with NA27 (the top three are NASB, ASV and NASB95). NAB is ahead of ESV, NRSV ad RSV. The NJB is mid-field.

Carl Hernz said...

One should not confuse "conformity" with the Nestle-Aland as how precise a translation of the New Testament is with the Greek.

The word "conformity" in the academic world (and I can only guess in Wikipedia, but I don't trust Wikipedia too much since it can be altered by anyone without proper credentials) means "with the main text," and not with the variant readings. Even if the variant readings are used from the same volume, the term "conformity" would not be used.

The main text of any master text is limited by the scientific method, i.e., if textual witnesses at the time of printing agree with a reading in question, that becomes the main read reading.

Like all critical data, the end result can be disagreed with by other scholars or the results could be just plain wrong. And after an edition comes to print evidence can come to light to prove the editors wrong in their decision.

This has happened repeatedly with the New Testament text for all master texts as new fragments keep being found and there are still disagreements regarding which readings are correct. Also, just because we may have extant witnesses textually this doesn't mean that in the past there were more textual witnesses favoring another reading. The manuscripts may have just been lost to time. (And again, these disputed readings are mostly miniscule and minor today, dealing mostly with words that are similar which is why you have footnotes offering various renderings in translations.)

So it is unwise for translators to follow any master text whether it be the Nestle-Aland, Westcott and Hort or anything precisely and confirm to it to bring about a "perfect" translation. It doesn't work that way.

CWBuckley said...

Thanks Carl-

A couple of points:

1) I know what the Catholic Epistles are, and why they're called that. I actually went to seminary before I became Catholic. That said, books in the Catholic Epistles (escpecially James) traditionally have been at the core of Protestant disputes of canonicity. Like Catholic concerns over how translations like the NIV skew readings of Pauline theology against Catholic doctrine, one can wonder how translation choices in the Catholic Epistles may be disputed between Protestant and Catholic translations. Having 30 changes now included in the main text of the Greek NT seems like an opportunity to find out.

2) I'm not asking this question because I think the 30 changes are major. We all know that nothing in variant manuscripts is big enough to affect Christian doctrine.

3) In glossing over my question, you've actually underscored precisely why I'm curious enough to ask it.

It's perfectly valid to wonder:
-what are the 30 changes?
-how may they play out in translations based on the NA28 base text?
-can we observe any difference between Protestant and Catholic renderings thereof?

You seem very familiar with the Greek in a way I can't hope to be.
Can you dig a little deeper around those three points?
I'm sure we'd all benefit from what you know.

Carl Hernz said...

1. Being Jewish, I am not the one to answer these questions in this forum. Jews often tend to stand more on the side of Catholicism due to our common tradition history and our current strong lines of communication with the Church, but disputes between Catholics and Protestants should stay between Catholics and Protestants.

2. You may be asking this particular question on the point of how this affects translations in the religio-political realm of Christianity, therefore, regarding issues I cannot answer again due to my being Jewish. I am 51, and I have been using Koine Greek like Hebrew since my childhood. The Westcott and Hort text was my primer, in fact. All I can offer is a critical, academic answer to questions on translation. I don't take sides. As such, I can only repeat that there isn't anything here to change doctrine or translation in any major manner...not in favor of the politics of Catholicism vs Protestantism.

3. But the major change has to do with the advancement made possible by computer technology in the field of philology. The production of the ECM or the Editio Critica Major is basically a master text developed, in layman terms, by feeding a computer all the best critical data we have on textual witnesses and having it come up with the best reading instead of editors alone.

The 30 changes in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Catholic Letters is the result of the ECM program. Portions of the 5th edition UBS NT master text has been produced this way too.

Can the ECM make mistakes? Based on human error, yes. Based on lack of data, yes. And will translators follow every reading suggested by the ECM? Never. It eventually will be used for every new edition of upcoming master texts of Nestle-Aland, and the UBS plans to use the ECM to aid in producing the main reading of its complete text too. This will never mean that they will not make new editions, however. The ECM is just the latest aid. The program that makes the ECM will eventually become replaced by something else and there will be rivals to the ECM too, I am sure.

I hope this helps. The actual changes to the text I can offer, but the space to discuss each one would be tedious and frankly, as I pointed out, moot as most modern translations both Catholic and Protestant have already adopted them. If you can be specific on what change you want to see, perhaps I can look for it, but we're talking about advancements made mostly in the Protestant sphere of Christian New Testament scholarship.

hoshie said...

The most recent 2016 revision of the ESV uses the NA28. Here's what the preface says:

"The ESV is based on ... the Greek text in the 2014 editions of the Greek New Testament (5th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (28th ed., 2012), edited by Nestle and Aland."

The full preface is here: