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Design Showcase: The Tyndale House Greek New Testament

Photography by Tavis Bohlinger*

Welcome to the first in a new series on the Logos Academic Blog (theLAB), in which we discuss everything but the actual content of a book. Design Showcase is a series of interviews with both publishers and designers of the best academic resources in the world of biblical scholarship. In this first of the series, we’re going to take a look at the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, or THGNT.

We already interviewed Peter Williams and Dirk Jonkind, the editors of the work, in a previous post. Now, it’s your chance to get up close and personal with the newest New Testament from a design perspective. I asked Dirk to talk about design features of the THGNT, including font, binding, paper and more. Here is what he had to say:

(A quick heads-up: our second post features the new LXX reader from Hendrickson, followed by a look at the making of a Mohr Siebeck volume; sign up to our email list so you don’t miss a future post).

The type of font was subject to considerable discussion between us and Crossway, who did all the typesetting. In the end, the clarity of this type and its timeless feel made it the preferred choice. For several combinations of letters and their accents some tiny space was added in order to provide a better reading experience. Also, after some back and forth the distance between the letters in the apparatus was increased to provide better readability. Every page is type-set quite carefully so that wherever possible pages end on sensible places. And I don’t believe there is any word that spans two lines.

When it comes to the verse numbers and the ekthesis, there were problems where we had to offset big numbers a little. Notice how well this worked in John 8:12. The suggestion to use the staurogram came from Peter Williams, and that was the type of suggestion that felt right immediately. It figures on the covers of the Cambridge editions in a creative way.

At Tyndale House we approved colour choices etc, but we didn’t design these. However, we had set out that it should be apparent that the book in hand was more a Bible than “an edition” of the GNT. This brings us to the intended audience (publishers have markets in mind, we had audiences). We wanted to present a text that invited the reader to read, and to do so with minimal distractions. Yet we included an apparatus, because it is important to help the reader understand what is going on and to signal some of the work behind the edition.

The apparatus we provide gives more info than for example you would get in a Loeb edition of a classical text, but fewer than you find in a critical edition such as NA28 (and much fewer than the Editio Critica Maior, but is there anyone who would sit down and read a chapter from that work?). I would guess we have a similar number of variants as one would find in the UBS series, though we cite fewer manuscripts.

Our target audience are those who want to read the NT in Greek, either devotionally, or in ministry, or in the context of learning the language. The absence of critical signs in the text and the cleaner page lay-out is supposed to look less intimidating than other critical texts. I myself am influenced by the whole “form is message” approach: the shape in which you present things is part of the subliminal message. We don’t want to impress; we want people to get stuck into the text.

That is also the reason why the Introduction follows the text (you don’t need an introduction to start reading the GNT). When I go to a NT seminar in Cambridge, I normally take my NA28, as it gives me more of the info I need for the academic, detailed context (even though I think the text of the THGNT is better—but I have that one on my phone). In practice though, it turns out that only in rare cases I need that extra information.

We have followed the manuscripts in adopting ekthesis as our main paragraph divider, and made concessions to the modern reader by having verse numbers in the text (grudgingly, I have to say) and have accentuation, mainly adopted from manuscript practice. Of course the accentuation is found consistently only in later manuscripts. Some breathings occur already in our oldest papyri.

The ekthesis is interesting, and sometimes surprising. On page 306 (1 Peter 3), we have an unusual division halfway through verse 15, which apparently has to be construed as a verbless clause. Interestingly, this is just like the 4 other paragraphs on the same page, and therefore not that “strange.” If you look at the opening of pp. 76 and 77 (Mark 4–5 , there are 14 ektheses. One does not need to be a highly trained scholar to notice that Mark’s favourite conjunction is καί.

We didn’t include the contractions for the words “God,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” “Christ,” “Spirit,” etc. (the nomina sacra). It is our expectation that this custom will become part of the printing of GNTs in the not-to-distant future; people expect that sort of visual link with centuries of Christian scribal tradition. I certainly hope to see a THGNT with nomina sacra some time soon. On the other hand, we did incorporate the number of the beast written in “numerals.”

Likewise we didn’t mark the citations from the OT. There have been times that I felt uncomfortable with the amount of editorial direction in certain editions as to these citations. What is the message we convey by setting OT citations off in “block quotes”? To what extent do we project unconsciously our expectations of block quotes into the NT text?

Manuscripts often marked OT citations with diplès, and perhaps that is the way forward. It is important to note that most of the time the words borrowed from the OT figure as part of the argument, and it is perhaps best to present them typographically that way.

The way the whole project was set up meant that it was only in the sixth or seventh year that we started to think about a publisher. By then, we knew that we would be able to deliver. At the same time, we didn’t want to become part of an academic series, but we consciously went for a publisher who has a track record in Bible publishing. Since Pete Williams is on the ESV translation committee, it was almost a default to have a conversation with Crossway (by the way, another of my colleagues, David Instone-Brewer, is on the NIV translation committee).

It proved a fruitful relationship. And they showed their flexibility by their willingness to respond to our desire to open up a conversation with Cambridge University Press on joint-publication (after all, it is our local publishing house).

Despite the closer relationship with Crossway, I should make it clear that whilst working on the THGNT I never looked at textual decisions made in the ESV, and neither did we ever get any prompt to consider a decision as reflected in the ESV.

Work on the Tyndale House GNT continues. This Autumn, Crossway will publish a Reader’s Edition, and next year an Introduction to the GNT for people who have just acquired their first GNT (about two or three months of Greek language training is assumed). And, some time in the near future a Textual Commentary will be published. We started working on this in earnest in August, and Elijah Hixson and I have two years to get this done (publication in 2021). We are in Matthew 16 at the time of writing! We are tackling a variety of issues, some seemingly trivial, others very substantial.

Dirk Jongkind is Academic Vice Principal and Senior Research Fellow in New Testament Text and Language at Tyndale House, Cambridge. 

*Photographs taken at the docks of the St John’s College boathouse on the River Weir in Durham, England.

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