November 30, 2010

Thoughts on the SBL-GNT

A newly released eclectic Greek New Testament became available this month. Michael Holmes has provided expert opinion on production of the new SBL Greek New Testament. I have only spent a couple hours with the text, in addition to working through Wieland Willker's review.  I do have some initial reflections on the text that I could share.

The primary niche this text is filling is very clear. It is an eclectic Greek text from the SBL that provides a much more generous free-use policy than the Nestle text. There are situations where the usage rights from the NA27 have been limiting towards a project.

At the SBL general meeting, they were passing out hard copies to registrants. This hard copy is mostly worth what attendants paid for it. The Greek text uses the SBL Greek font, which is simply bad. It makes for awful reading, looking like perpetual italics. I was disappointed when the font was released and seeing it in this text is undesirable.

Also, the initial apparatus provided with the text is essentially useless. It serves as a descriptor for the process that Michael Holmes used to compile the text: take 4 eclectic texts (Tregelles, Westcott-Hort, Robinson-Pierpont) and compare them in order to catch all major variation units. This might be acceptable if it weren't for the fact that it doesn't make the NA text a major text to compare, only mentioning it when a variation differs from the less-scholarly-backward-transation "Greek text behind the NIV". But in the end, when I'm reading my NT, I don't care if a variant came from Westcott-Hort, but rather which manuscript it can be found in. Others have indicated the apparatus must simply be a stopgap solution. I would think so.

And finally, regarding its use. There are certainly places where the NA text needs a second thought. (See, for instance, Willker's exhaustive list.) I am eager to learn more about NA28 which is in the pipeline. But while Michael Holmes is very qualified (see, for instance, his work on the text of the Apostolic Fathers), the reader of scripture will benefit all the more from evaluation by committee. Holmes does in a way dialogue with the opinions of Tregelles and Hort, etc., but in the end they are still his evaluations.

Stephen Carlson has an excellent post on the apparatus, and keenly points out one benefit of the apparatus is that "a full two-thirds of the apparatus is listing differences with the Byzantine textform, enabl[ing] the user of the SBLGNT apparatus to get a very good sense of what the Byzantine text reads."

Further Update:
Michael Holmes graciously pointed me towards a very helpful faq blog post he has on some aspects of the SBL-GNT creation choices. You can find it here


Deane said...

"Willker's exhausted list"

Yes, I bet after compiling that, he was really pooped.


Joe Weaks said...

It is a long list.

Mike Holmes said...

Hello, Joe,
thanks for taking the time to look into the new SBL edition. You’ve hit one point square on: it will make an up-to-date, critically established edition available to a wide range of users who have found the limitations or expense of licensing the NA a barrier to their own projects. This is a key reason for the generous end user license agreement.
For users such as yourself, the apparatus admittedly will not be of much interest. There’s basically no way to compete with the outstanding apparatus of the NA27 edition, and the SBL edition makes no pretense to do so. So instead it offers a different sort of apparatus, one that will serve other sorts of users in a range of differing circumstances—and perhaps become a bridge to the NA apparatus.
One small correction re the coverage of the apparatus: it makes available, for all of the 6928 variation units, the reading of NA27/UBS4, either subsumed under the “NIV” abbreviation or, when it differs from the NIV, explicitly cited. For a brief explanation of why this procedure was adopted, you may wish to take a look at the first two responses to “Three Questions” that is posted on the ETC Blog (at
Finally, re NA28: reportedly, the text of NA28 will basically reproduce the text of NA27; about the only differences in NA28 will be where NA27 is changed to conform to the text of the Editio Critica Maior (for those books for which the ECM is complete). Thus the SBL GNT may still be of interest in that it offers an alternate text, based on a different view of the history of the transmission of the NT text, that differs from NA/UBS in about 540 instances.