Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Daniel Wallace reviews The Text of the New Testament (4th ed.)

In the recent issue of JETS (Dec 2006), Dan Wallace reviews Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). The full review is available here.

Wallace brings up a number of critical points:

1) the plates are of lower quality and now interspersed throughout the book;
2) the section on Important Witnesses lists only eighty Greek manuscripts (a mere increase of three);
3) the discussion of internal evidence is underdeveloped (examples in the discussion of 1 Thess 2:7 and Mark 16:9-20);
4) the critiques of other viewpoints are too irenic (for example, Fee's arguments against rigorous eclecticism are not mentioned)—this is a lingering deficiency from previous editions;
5) the revision is uneven—a clear demarcation between Metzger's contribution and Ehrman's can often be seen, close to the point of internal contradiction;
6) "other errata are sprinkled throughout the book" (especially the indices need numerous corrections);
7) the discussion of the future task is too thin.

On the whole, however, Wallace appears to be less critical than D.C. Parker in his recent review of the book in JTS. Wallace ends his review on a positive note:

"Lest the casual reader think that these criticisms outweigh the strengths of the fourth edition, let me reiterate: Metzger-Ehrman's Text of the New Testament remains the standard handbook on NT textual criticism. Even with its few flaws, this volume should be read, underlined, digested, and quoted by all students of the NT text. It rightfully deserves to be within arm's reach of all who study the sacred Greek Scriptures."


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  2. This review coincides with what I thought (so it must therefore be a good review, no?). As published in the JSNTBooklist 2006:
    This is an up-dated and reset fourth edition of a standard handbook on the textual criticism of the New Testament. All the major areas of importance are touched upon, and the crucial issues are presented at length with plenty of notes and bibliography for further reading. The unique elements of Metzger’s first three editions are maintained: the material on manuscripts themselves, the careful description of the history of the subject and the common-sense approach to the actual practice of NT textual criticism in a number of case studies (all maintained in this edition). These are now also supplemented with additional material reflecting recent work: the use of computers, descriptions of ongoing projects; and/or Ehrman’s own thinking: on methods of determining family relationships among manuscripts and, in a whole new chapter, on the ‘History of the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament’. I assume these come predominantly from Ehrman, but this is not stated explicitly—according to the preface and title page this is a jointly authored book rather than a revision of an older book by a new author. In general the wording remains that of Metzger unless some revision was required, and only in the new chapter do we really hear Ehrman’s own voice and emphases.

    Thus one of the best books on the subject now has a welcome new lease of life. Not all of the revisions are necessarily for the better: the photos come out much less clearly than the earlier plates, the check-list of Papyri has not been included, and the font and general layout seem less clear than the earlier editions. There is also perhaps some tension between the two voices at times; in particular between the earlier, rather cautious, discussion of ‘Alterations made because of doctrinal considerations’ (pp. 265-268, following the earlier editions from Metzger) and the later discussion of the impact of ‘Doctrinal Disputes of Early Christianity’ (pp. 282-287, generally following Ehrman’s well-known approach to this subject), but it could be argued that this tension enhances the value of the book as an introduction to the subject as currently practiced.

  3. The issue about the plates is one I hadn't heard of before. I'm not sure why Oxford doesn't see why high quality is fairly important for these. They did the same thing with the plates in their later printings of Metzger's Greek Manuscripts of the Christian Bible, where the plates are even more crucial. Despite Wallace's positive note, he certainly said nothing to make me want to replace my old 3rd edition with the 4th edition, which is seemingly just the 3rd edition with some less reliable material mixed in. I'll pass on that.

    As for Metzger's irenic tone in dealing with contrary positions, how is that a deficiency? I have always considered that one of his great strengths. There's always a more persuasive quality to arguments of scholars who have so mastered their field that they can compliment their opponents without threat of giving up their own ground. I recall a conversation I once had with Jakob Van Bruggen where he expressed the same sentiment, himself being one of those detractors whose view (Majority Text) is dealt with by Metzger. Incidentally, Metzger's intro to TC deals more with opposing viewpoints than Aland and Aland. So that feature, irenic tone and all, should be counted as an advantage I would think.

  4. In the versions section of the book (94-125), there is some welcome updated information on printed editions, etc.

    However, an unfortunate oversight, I think, is the Middle Egyptian Schoyen Codex which contains a significant portion of Matthew.

    Ehrman/Metzger discuss the Scheide Codex of Matthew, also Middle Egyptian, commenting that it is one of the four oldest copies of the entire text of Matthew.

    The Schoyen Codex, however, would seem to be of greater importance, for it is supposed to date maybe 100 years earlier (!)--about 300AD, not to mention its strikingly unique text.

    The printed edition of the Schoyen Codex was published in 2001, being the subject of some review and discussion. In light of their respective dates of publication, one would have thought some mention of Schoyen would be present in The Text of the New Testament.