Philip W. Comfort
New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: Commentary on the variant readings of the ancient New Testament manuscripts and how they relate to the major English translations
Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2008
With thanks to Christy Wong of Tyndale House Publishers for this review copy (and profound apologies for my tardiness in publishing my comments)!
Philip W. Comfort’s newly published and highly readable commentary of New Testament variants and their representation within major English translations marks a significant step in the presentation of valuable text-critical research for a wider audience. Very few, if any, other works have attempted to synthesize and address the many remarkable features of this rich textual tradition in a format accessible to both scholars and interested nonspecialists; certainly none have been as successful. (Thus far, Comfort’s offering has been most frequently compared to Bruce Metzger’s classic A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament; Nick Norelli has offered some insightful comments in this regard here and here). Its stated intentions are lofty indeed:
“[to] explain every major textual difference between the following versions of the New Testament: King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), Today’s New International Version (TNIV), New English Bible (NEB), Revised English Bible (REB), New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) New American Bible (NAB), New Living Translation [for which Comfort himself served as the New Testament textual critic] (NLT, revised), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the NET Bible: New English Translation (NET)” (p. ix).
Moreover, additional notes are provided for verses or sections where diversity amongst the early witnesses has influenced the subsequent English versions in less significant ways; where such diversity possesses exegetical implications; or where a related yet substantially divergent form of the Greek text—for example, the Western recension of Acts of the Apostles most famously found in Codex Bezae—is extant. While the precise perameters of nebulous categories such as “every major textual difference between… versions of the New Testament” are not provided, even a cursory examination reveals an analysis impressive in size and scope. Thousands of variants are examined carefully and thoroughly.
The volume begins with a series of six introductory sections designed to acclimate the less experienced reader to the nature and practice of textual criticism, notable editions of the New Testament in Greek and English, and the format of the commentary itself. Unlike the earlier work of Metzger, which introduces technical terms including homoeoarcton and homoeoteleuton (scribal errors in which the eye of the copyist skips between words with similar beginnings and endings, respectively) with brief and potentially confusing descriptions, examples are included to give additional clarity. In viewing and comparing the paired phrases την αγαπην την εις παντας τους αγιους/την εις παντας τους αγιους and επηρωτησεν αυτον ο ηγεμων λεγων/επηρωτησεν αυτον λεγων, the reader receives an invaluable firsthand glimpse of these phenomena, which are subsequently recapitulated in a brief glossary. The commentary is further supplemented with appendices. The last of these, a bibliography featuring an appropriate selection of notable articles and monographs from a variety of scholars and methodological perspectives rather than a listing of every potentially relevant item—which often serves only to frighten away all but the most intrepid individuals—is particularly well done.