Thoughts about the NA29 and UBSGNT6

NAIn a recent post at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, Peter Gurry shares some notes that he took at SBL Denver 2018 about the plans for the next editions of the NA29 and UBSGNT6. I too was sitting in that session where Holger Strutwolf was presenting the plans. But I did not take any notes, so I am thankful for Peter’s making his comments available.

To summarize, the NA29 and UBSGNT6 will share the same editorial committee. And the UBSGNT6 will perhaps have fewer variants than the UBSGNT5 in the apparatus to suit the practical needs of Bible translators in the field. Also, the committee is hoping to be able to publish the NA29 in 2022.

It is in fact great news that we will be celebrating publications of two critical Greek New Testaments in just a few years. But I must admit that I have some concerns.

First, I think some may still find it uncomfortable that the two most-widely used critical editions of the Greek New Testament will again closely follow the ECM (Editio Critica Maior) volumes of the INTF Münster. Gurry, of course, stresses that the NA/UBSGNT editorial committee is not under pressure to uncritically follow the ECM decisions; he seems confident that the committee will make their own judgments independently of the ECM editors and that NA29 will thus be different in principle from NA28. This is confusing because we all know NA28 actively incorporated the ECM Catholic Letters (1997–2005). Does Gurry mean that the committee now has a different principle and policy to distance itself from the ECM? Does he mean that the NA/UBSGNT committee is now willing to sacrifice editorial consistency between NA28 and NA29? Questions pour in. Moreover, the committee’s statement that they will not closely follow the ECM is, as it were, self-contradictory because it is clear that the committee is anxiously waiting for the ECM edition of Mark to be done so that they may “incorporate the ECM work” into the next NA/UBSGNT editions.

UBSSecond, people will realize that the ECM will certainly exert immense influence on the NA29/UBSGNT6 committee’s text-critical decisions because both committees share the similar resources and, most of all, people. The head of the NA/UBSGNT committee is Holger Strutwolf, who is, not surprisingly, one of the chief editors of the ECM III (Acts, 2017). Gurry also says that two of the current ECM research associates, Theodora Panella and Gregory S. Paulson, will join the editorial committees as assistants. The reader should also note that both committees are operating under the formidable umbrella of the INTF Münster. For this reason, many—including myself—are skeptical that the NA/UBSGNT committee is in a position to make their own decisions freely.

Third, I am quite worried that the so-called Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), the underlying text-critical principle of the ECM, is dominating both committees without proper checks and balances. Even Gurry himself admits that the CBGM is little known or understood “even among NT scholars” for “its sheer complexity” (see Gurry’s 2016 JETS article and his 2017 monograph). If it is too complex for even NT textual critics, who, in the world, are these committee members who seemingly “understand” and use it to edit Greek New Testament texts that millions of readers will be using?

Again, it is good news that we will soon see NA29 and UBSGNT6 be published. But I think it is time for us to at least begin to ask if we are using our resources properly and wisely to produce the best approximation of the original text.

— John J.H. Lee

John is currently a PhD student in New Testament at McMaster Divinity College and has previously worked with SIL International in the Caucasus. He is studying papyrology and textual criticism with Stanley E. Porter.


5 thoughts on “Thoughts about the NA29 and UBSGNT6

  1. Why would we believe that the method is too complex for NT scholars? Not being widely understood is different than being too complex to be understood. In my experience, textual criticism itself is not widely understood by NT scholars, let alone a single tool in the text critic’s toolbox (the CBGM).


    • Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for the comment.

      Whenever you read books or articles about the CBGM, you will frequently hear them say it is a very “complex” method. So ironically, complaints (or comments) about its sheer complexity do not come from me but from CBGM exponents themselves. And, considering my recent exposure to and effort to get my head around the CBGM, I am certain that it is a very complicated tool. So I think we have many reasons to believe that the CBGM is, indeed, a complex framework. You wrote “textual criticism is not widely understood by NT scholars.” It is perhaps true. But I think that a better wording would be that textual criticism is not widely “used” by NT scholars because traditional NT textual criticism (i.e. most notably reasoned eclecticism) is not complicated at all. It primarily concerns weighing both external and internal evidence to produce the best approximation of the original text. Most, if not all, NT scholars would not bother to do textual criticism and simply accept NA/UBSGNT texts. But it does not mean that they do not understand NT textual criticism. They simply do not want to use it in their work. So yes, as daunting as textual criticism may sound, however, NT textual criticism is not complex. And I believe it should not be complex.

      Hope this helps.



      • Having read nearly everything published on the CBGM, I have not found exponents (other than Gurry, if he is to be an exponent) who claim that the CBGM itself is complex. The motivation for integrating the method into traditional reasoned eclecticism is that contamination results in complex relationships between witnesses, but that is true whether the CBGM is in your toolbox or not. The calculations done by the CBGM are remarkably simple, but perhaps seem complex because of the large data set sitting behind them.

        If you do not mind me asking, what has been your recent exposure to the tool? And what aspect of the tool seemed particularly complex?

        We may have to agree to disagree regarding use and understanding of textual criticism by NT scholarship. In my experience, the typical NT scholar may understand the broad concepts of external and internal evidence without really understanding what goes into making a text-critical decision. But perhaps you have had a much different experience (which would be fantastic).


      • Hi Andrew,

        Thank you again for your interest in my post.

        Yes, contamination is one of the primary issues that the CBGM attempts to tackle. But I wonder if this is a solvable problem in the NT manuscript tradition where contamination is so acute. I think we should remember that genealogical approaches work well in classical studies where contamination is not a problem. Thus, the CBGM’s end-result (e.g. textual flow diagram) is after all a hypothetical reconstruction of genealogical relationships based on the CBGM’s own algorithm, which is also based on the editors’ own (subjective) text-critical decisions, i.e. the local stemma. I don’t think the CBGM can solve this problem (Paul Maas, even Kurt Aland warned about the impossibility of this task). The calculation results displayed neatly in tabular forms and textual-flow diagrams on the CBGM applications may look simple. But my question concerns how they produced those numbers. (Have you examined their programming algorithm?)

        I don’t blame the typical NT scholar who, according to your wording, does “not really understand what goes into making a text-critical decision” because textual criticism does require dedicated attention and training. But I believe that the typical NT scholar can, as long as he/she wants to, enter text-critical field relatively easily. But I am afraid that the CBGM places some extra burden on the NT scholar who may want to do textual criticism.

        Thanks again for your comments, Andrew.

        — John


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