New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: A Brief Review (Part II)

(Part I may be found here.)

Variants which have been noted or adopted by some or all of the translators of the English versions listed at the beginning of the volume are presented in a simple, informative format.  The reading adopted by the most recent editions of the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies text is given first in both Greek and English, together with its principal supporting witnesses, followed by each significant variant unit in identical fashion.  Readings adopted by the Textus Receptus (1513) and Westcott and Hort (1881-1882) are identified as such with suitable abbreviations.  The result is an orderly display which places respective variants on a much more even visual and analytical footing than most biblical texts or commentaries, a fact which should please those who, following Eldon Epp and David Parker, have called for the increased study of textual forms other than that deemed to represent the best estimation of the “original.”  Moreover, it is a dramatic departure from the brilliant yet frustrating array of critical sigla employed by N-A/UBS, which allow for the condensation of an incredible amount of information onto the printed page but have led to the wry observation that one must actually learn two languages in order to fully utilize the edition.  While the ensuing critical comments are extremely illuminating, this straightforward display of the documentary evidence is quite worthwhile in its own right, providing readers with the data to conduct informed, independent assessments if they so desire.  The question of the inclusion of an appeal for deliverance from evil in the Lord’s Prayer as given in Luke 11:4b (p. 203) is but one example:

WH NU omit αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου (“but rescue us from evil”)

P75 *א² B L syrs copsa Origen


Variant/TR add αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου (“but rescue us from evil”)

א¹ A C D W Θ f13 33 Maj it syrchp


Evidently, Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer must have been current in the churches he knew, and Luke’s version must have been used in the churches he frequented.  Both recorded the prayer with different verbiage.  But many scribes (apparently from the fourth century onward) harmonized Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer to Matthew’s. Interestingly, the harmonization did not go the other way—from Luke to Matthew—because Matthew was the more popular text.  For both the Sermon on the Mount and Lord’s Prayer, scribes conformed Luke to Matthew.  All the major early fifth-century manuscripts (A C D W) display the harmonization.  The harmonized text is reflected in TR.

In four instances noted above (Luke 11:2a, 2c, 4a, 4b), the longer readings are scribal expansions borrowed from the wording of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matt 6:9-10, 13.  In every instance, the modern translations followed the shorter reading, which is always supported by P75 and B (with other MSS).  The expanded readings, however, are noted in several versions out of deference to the KJV tradition.

Even if one is not especially inclined to accept Comfort’s rather traditional characterizations of the evangelists who eventually became known as Matthew and Luke, the chronological plotting of witnesses—which clearly indicates a fifth-century harmonization of the Lukan Lord’s Prayer with its Matthean counterpart—and the catalog of English versions provide much more information than the tantalizingly vague note which appears at this point in the text of the NRSV: “Other ancient authorities add but rescue us from the evil one (or from evil).”

A final feature of this commentary which deserves mention in a review of any length is its attention to the Western text of Acts of the Apostles.  Comfort indicates, “In every verse where the Western text (and specifically the D-text, a particular form of the D-text) differs from NU, there is an English translation (see Wilson 1923)” (p. 325). Substantial differences between the Western and Alexandrian texts are treated in additional notes.  This editorial decision will hopefully lead to some additional, well-deserved attention for this enigmatic family of witnesses, particularly among interested Christians who nevertheless remain completely unaware of the existence of an early version of Acts noticeably different from that found in their study Bibles.

In a resource explicitly intended to appeal to non-academics, additional information on the provenance, contents, and quality of the most notable manuscripts and textual families would be extremely helpful; readers are abruptly introduced to Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, various key papyri, and others without much explanation as to their origins or importance.  (Many biblical scholars who remain unforgivably unfamiliar with the nuances of textual criticism would likely benefit from such descriptive information as well.)  In a similar vein, it seems unlikely that relative neophytes would be able to easily digest Comfort’s appendixed arguments regarding the use of internal evidence by the editors of the N-A/UBS, or the relationship between Papyrus 75 and Codex Vaticanus as an indicator that the text of the latter was based upon an earlier copy of excellent quality rather than an extensive scribal recension of the fourth century.  The collation of the work of Westcott and Hort alongside the N-A/UBS and the Textus Receptus (a choice likely linked to Comfort’s advocacy of their conclusions that an early, pure form of the New Testament is readily recoverable and that reliance upon external evidence provides more consistent critical judgments) is a welcome feature, but the inclusion of other notable editions (especially those of Tischendorf and Tregelles) would be highly desirable.  Finally, Comfort’s treatment of some variants—for instance, Romans 5:1, where the overwhelming majority of the earliest and best witnesses read εχωμεν rather than εχομεν—suggests that his preference for external evidence is not as strong as his preliminary and concluding comments seem to indicate.  Such minor points, however, do not significantly detract from the immense cumulative value of this largely innovative commentary.

Comfort’s indisputably impressive diligence and meticulousness have produced a unique tool which will benefit every reader interested in the early transmission of the biblical text and the impact of ancient manuscripts, versions, and quotations upon contemporary translations and exegesis.  Highly recommended!

For some additional reviews, see Shawn Tabatt (here) and Bob Hayton (here and here).




1.  The Practice of New Testament Textual Criticism

2.  Significant Editions of the Greek New Testament

3.  Significant English Versions

4.  Abbreviations

5.  How to Use the Commentary

6.  Glossary



Appendix A (Scribal Gap-Filling)

Appendix B (Aland’s Local-Genealogical Method)

Appendix C (Metzger’s Judgment of Variant Readings according to Text-Types)

Appendix D (The Importance of the Documentary Considerations)



2 Responses to “New Testament Text and Translation Commentary: A Brief Review (Part II)”

  1. August 12, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Great review. I found myself wishing a few more variants were included (that pertain more to differences between the KJV and modern versions). I also found a few errors in his description of the evidence, and don’t know if I can be assured he lists all the witnesses or not in some of his listing of the manuscripts.

    But these minor squabbles aside, Comfort’s work is incredibly helpful and useful for layman such as myself that are interested in these matters.

  2. August 12, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Nice review. I have to admit that I’ve neglected this volume since getting it. It sat on myu desk for quite some time but didn’t get used as much as it should have. You’ve inspired me to crack it back open.

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© 2006-2009, Matthew Burgess. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the original content of this website is strictly prohibited. Quotations or citations should include a link to this website. The views and opinions given here are my own and do not represent those of the University of Virginia (or anyone else, for that matter).

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