The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), 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.
This edition uses a minimum number 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 from the New Testament verses. 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:
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.
Michael W. Holmes is Professor of Biblical Studies and Early Christianity, Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota. The author of numerous papers on questions of textual criticism, he is also the North American editor for the International Greek New Testament Project and a member of its North American Executive Committee. In addition to editing The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition, he is also the co-editor for The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research, he has also authored The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, available from Logos for individual download and as part of The Apostolic Fathers in Greek and English (3 Editions, with Morphology).