Newest Critical Bible to be Released: UBS 5th Ed. Greek New Testament


The latest critical edition of the Greek New Testament is to be released sometime between the months of May and June of this year (2014). Critical Editions (Editio Critica Maior) of the New Testament text refers to the Greek text which is most likely representative of the original (autograph) version from which all other copies (manuscripts) were made (archetypal text) based on the surviving (extant) manuscripts.

cc-2014-UBS5-cover

Cover of the UBS 5th Ed. Greek New Testament

In 2012, the Nestle-Aland 28th Ed. Novum Testamentum Graeca (Greek New Testament) was published, and can be read online here. The United Bible Societies’ 5th Ed. will have the identical Greek Text as that of the Nestle-Aland 28th Ed. These books are comprised of two major sets of data: (1) The Greek Text (2) The Apparatus of the Text. The Greek Text in the Nestle-Aland 28th Ed. contained changes/ updates to the Greek Text in relation to the Catholic Letters of the New Testament. The UBS 5th Ed., will contain the same Greek Text with those updated changes, with some paragraph and punctuation differences. The apparatus for the texts, refers to the manuscript data, references/ citations, lexical/ philological dictionaries, charts, statistics and calculations, as well as classification criteria/ determination of the variants’ details. A Critical Edition of the Greek New Testament is updated primarily when the Greek Text undergoes some change, due to manuscript evidence. The variants refer to passages, verses, phrases and words that differ in spelling or content between the 5500+ surviving (extant) manuscripts (MSS). When the Greek New Testament scholars settle on one reading from the other readings, the change is made to the Greek Text and thus it becomes the latest Critical Edition of the Greek New Testament.

When Greek New Testament scholars sometimes state that the New Testament is 99% certain, what they mean is that based on the current manuscripts, they have decided that out of all the varying readings that this one specific reading is probably more accurate than the other readings contained in the remaining manuscripts. In other words, they are 99% certain that one variant is more accurate than another variant. This belief however, stems from the Evangelical Greek scholars, their level of certainty differs vastly with the scholars of the Nestle-Aland and UBS committees. There is a persistent need for clarification and correction purposes as Evangelicals seem to misunderstand what the editions represent. The Critical Edition of the New Testament is meant to envision what the original may have looked like, based on the manuscripts which have existed to this day, and out of those manuscripts – the specific readings chosen out of the thousands of other variants, is 99% more correct than the other variants. It does not mean that the current Greek New Testament is 99% certain or representative of what may have existed during the 1st century CE. It’s 99% certainty in the choice of the variants, above the other variants. This disparity in understanding, is sometimes extremely difficult for polemicists and lay Christians to understand, which is problematic for them as it wholly misrepresents what the Critical Editions are meant to convey.

I previously mentioned that there was a classification criteria which the scholars apply to the Critical Editions, the criteria for the UBS3 and UBS4 Editions is as follows (“The Greek New Testament”, fourth revision edition, Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesellschaft, 1994, p.3):

  • The letter A indicates that the text is certain.
  • The letter B indicates that the text is almost certain.
  • The letter C indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.
  • The letter D indicates that the committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision.

The ratings are as follows (E.J. Edwards, “On Using the Textual Apparatus of the UBS Greek New Testament”, in The Bible Translator, 28, p.122):

  • A – Ratings: 8.7%
  • B – Ratings: 32.3%
  • C – Ratings: 48.6%
  • D – Ratings: 10.4%

This would mean, that out of the thousands of variant readings, when the Greek New Testament scholars decided upon one specific reading they were 59%  greatly uncertain about their choices. In other words, those who claim that Greek scholars are 99% certain in their choice of variant readings are grossly wrong. Merely 8.7% of those choices were certain and 32.3% almost certain. This understanding sometimes goes over the heads of the Evangelical inerrantists which leads to false beliefs about the preservation and accuracy of the modern Biblical text. When changes are made to these two Critical Editions, new translations of the New Testament are produced based on these changes. It therefore should be noted, that the Greek New Testament is constantly being updated, it is primarily a dynamic text which continues to evolve time and time again. Those who believe that the New Testament is absolute in what it expresses clearly do not understand that the very Bibles in their hands are very different from the earlier editions of the Bible.

They sometimes state during their proselytizing that although there are new and varying translations of the New Testament, the Greek Text is absolute and certain, they postulate that the varying and new translations are solely meant to make it easier for non-Greek speakers to understand. Clearly, they are unaware that changes and updates to those translations are as a consequence of the ever changing, constant evolution and development of the Greek New Testament.

and God knows best.

3 comments

  • Allahuakbar. They’ll learn someday. in sha Allah it won’t be too late for ’em.

  • An interesting perspective, but you have misrepresented the numbers when you misrepresent the wider context of E.J.Edwards’s percentages. The percentages (A – Ratings: 8.7%; B: 32.3%; C: 48.6%; D: 10.4%) is only a percentage of the textual variations significant enough to list in the apparatus of those Greek texts. You neglect to mention that 19 of every 20 variants never even make it to the apparatus because the textual errors in various manuscripts are so glaringly obvious, little discussion is needed. When you include these in your percentages, you will find your percentages much smaller than the 1% you have chosen to take issue with.

    In actuality, of those readings you will find less than 1 ‘C’ reading per page and of these they still do not affect the sense of the passage, but deal with spelling, grammar, or order of words. And of the 50 something texts that are truly in doubt, “not one affects an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching” (Schaff).

    If you are going to discuss textual criticism, you might choose not to distort the numbers.

  • Hi Pastor Niles,

    I haven’t taken the numbers out of context, if you notice, I’ve given word for word (quoted) what both references mention in relation to the gradings, their percentages and their meanings. I don’t see how you can perceive this in anyway as removing them from their respective contexts. As for your allegation of removing them from their “wider context”, I’ve quite clearly made it clear that these gradings and percentages are in relation to textual variants.

    is only a percentage of the textual variations significant enough to list in the apparatus of those Greek texts

    Agreed, I didn’t state anything to the contrary in my article however. I believe this is strongly implied or understood by every student of textual criticism.

    When you include these in your percentages, you will find your percentages much smaller than the 1% you have chosen to take issue with.

    I don’t need to include them in the percentages referenced, they’re included in them. These percentages are in relation to the meaningful variants, not the lapsus calami. Therefore your argument that they be reduced to 1%, either means you’re not familiar with the works cited, or the science. I believe the number mentioned was ~1600 meaningful variants (I assume you should be familiar with the numbers), and from these, the gradings pertain to them.

    “In actuality, of those readings you will find less than 1 ‘C’ reading per page and of these they still do not affect the sense of the passage, but deal with spelling, grammar, or order of words.”

    In actuality, those readings of C or lower, account for 59% of the total meaningful variants, 59% of ~1600 is…..not 1%! If you can cite where E.J. Edward’s references the figure of 1%, that’d be amazing, if not, can you explain from where you got this figure…? Spelling does affect words, the conjectural emendation of the Pauline Epistle’s diacritical marks has led to some grave doctrinal differences as EP Sanders’ fully explains in his work, “Paul, the Law and the Jewish People”, with liberals such as Dr. James Daniel Tabor taking full advantage of these differences. Grammar affects meaning, meaning changes the “sense” of things, hence why syntax is important in….well…..every single language on the face of this planet. As for order of words, this too is crucial, for example, as mentioned in Philip Comfort’s Encountering the Manuscripts; the scribe of P45 according to Colwell and as affirmed by Royse edited the text heavily especially in regard to word and verse order thus leading to harmonizations between the Gospels (Matthew 14:19 and John 6:10, as well as John 11:49).

    And of the 50 something texts that are truly in doubt, “not one affects an article of faith or a precept of duty which is not abundantly sustained by other and undoubted passages or by the whole tenor of Scripture teaching” (Schaff).

    While I no doubt have respect for Schaff, the textual criticism he’d be familiar with would be…..19th century. We’re 200 years into the future and much has been revealed to us! For example, Rudolf Bultmann’s philological analysis of John 1, which I’m sure Schaff….never…..mentioned. Lastly, please do not accuse me of distorting the numbers, I have cited and quoted word for word what the numbers are, what they mean and what they represent from the sources mentioned. If I did change the numbers, or the gradings, or the quotes, you’d have a point then. However, since none of that has been done, I find your accusation baseless.

    Thank you for your comment, have a good day Pastor.

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