The Society of Biblical Literature, in keeping with its mission to foster biblical scholarship, is pleased to sponsor, in association with Lexham Press, a new, critically edited edition of the Greek New Testament. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (SBLGNT), which is freely available in electronic form, will be useful to students, teachers, translators, and scholars in a wide variety of settings and contexts.
This new critical text has additional benefits as well. The text of the SBLGNT is based on a thorough examination of the major critical editions, apparatuses, and manuscript discoveries and the apparatus provides an accessible and easy to use look at textual variants. The sight of numerous manuscripts listed in any critical apparatus can be overwhelming (regardless of whether it's that of Alford, Tischendorf, Tregelles, or the even the NA27 and UBS4). Often even seasoned scholars struggle to know how to weigh the evidence before them. This reality becomes clear when we find that even major technical commentaries scarcely do more than list the manuscript evidence with little or no discussion of their significance. But because the SBLGNT's apparatus cites other critical editions rather than specific manuscripts, users have instant access to how the some of the greatest text-critical minds of the past two centuries have weighed the evidence and their resulting conclusions. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition becomes even more valuable with the ability to examine its text right beside any of the dozens of Greek editions that you might own in Logos Bible Software.
Textual apparatuses can be excellent tools. They do an incredible job of densely packing a large amount of information into a small portion of the printed page. They contain information that is incredibly valuable to the specialist. But the compact nature, abbreviations and symbols take time and effort to master.
Using a minimum amount of symbols and abbreviations, the apparatus for the SBLGNT gathers some of the most well known textual critics of the past and present (Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, Robinson and Pierpont, those responsible for the Greek text behind the NIV, and those responsible for the NA27/UBS4 text) and records where they agree and where they take different readings. In this way, it is very similar to the apparatus that the Nestle text had for its first twelve editions (1898–1927).
The editions represented in the SBLGNT apparatus form a rough spectrum from Robinson-Pierpont as a representative of the Byzantine text, to Tregelles which, while pre-papyri, was one of the first to break from the Byzantine, to Westcott and Hort (including the great uncials but little papyri) to the NIV Greek text and the NA text which have the benefit of available papyri. The sorts of differences that end up in the SBLGNT apparatus are:
- Likely to be represented in an English translation. The KJV, of course, uses a more Byzantine Greek source. The NIV and NA do not. Several other NT translations (ESV, NLT, NET, etc.) actually have their own underlying Greek text with some degree of difference from the NA27, most of the divergences in those would also be accounted for with readings given in the SBLGNT. This range of information gives the person preaching/teaching/exegeting the passage familiarity with options their pupils or parishioners may have represented in their translations.
- Given the “spectrum” of the editions, the variant info might quickly point out some more interesting variants. If the SBLGNT agrees with Westcott and Hort, Tregelles, and NIV/NA but disagrees with Robinson-Pierpont, it is likely a pretty standard difference with the Byzantine text. But if the SBLGNT's chosen reading is only present in Robinson-Pierpont or Tregelles then it might be more interesting and worth a deeper look into the specialist-oriented materials such as the UBS or NA apparatuses, technical commentaries such as ICC or Word Biblical Commentary, the Editio Critica Maior, Tischendorf, Comfort & Barrett, and the like.
No one apparatus is perfect for everyone. The NA27 apparatus gives manuscript-level information to those who require it. The UBS4 apparatus is geared towards translators. The SBLGNT apparatus complements these functions, pointing out readings of interest for further research, instead of competing with them.
The work of textual criticism is far from completed and there is always need for giving a hearing to fresh research and analysis. Thus, the existence of an alternative critical text—the SBLGNT differs from the standard text in more than 540 variation units—will help to remind readers of the Greek New Testament that the text-critical task must continue. Moreover, by reminding readers of the continuing need to pay attention to the variant readings preserved in the textual tradition, it may also serve to draw attention to a fuller understanding of the goal of New Testament textual criticism: both indentifying the earliest text and also studying all the variant readings for the light they shed on how particular individuals and faith communities adopted, used, and sometimes altered the texts that they read, studied, and transmitted.