Evangelical Textual Criticism

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Epp on "A Variant-Conscious Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism"

Eldon Jay Epp, "It's All about Variants: A Variant-Conscious Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism", HTR 100 (2007), pp. 275-308. On-line here (HT: Jan Krans)

In this interesting article Epp discusses the purpose of NT TC as he sees it. He discusses a wide range of issues (in typical Epp style), and proposes a 'Variant-Conscious Edition' of the GNT in which the variants would be more clearly observable ('in your face') than in most editions and produces a sample for the ascension narratives (Luke 24.50-53; Acts 1.1-2, 9-11). As a closing paragraph he proposes the following definition:
  • 'New Testament textual criticism, employing aspects of both science and art, studies the transmission of the New Testament text and the manuscripts that facilitate its transmission, with the unitary goal of establishing the earliest attainable text (which serves as a baseline) and, at the same time, of assessing the textual variants that emerge from the baseline text so as to hear the narratives of early Christian thought and life that inhere in the array of meaningful variants.' (p. 308)

It is an interesting article, it will helped me understand Epp's views better, and it has 97 footnotes full of interesting items (not all of them authored by Epp). The project seems worth pursuing, although as with most alternatives to NA, it makes you marvel at what NA packs into not very much space. I think in my current mood I'd rather write: "It's All about Manuscripts: A Manuscript-Conscious Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism".


  1. Peter M. Head:
    "I think in my current mood I'd rather write: 'It's All about Manuscripts: A Manuscript-Conscious Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism'."

    Peter, please do write from that angle!

    Epp's article, though indeed interesting for various reasons, strikes me as anachronistic on two counts:

    1. His proposed "Variant-Concious Edition" of the GNT is actually there (at least for the Catholic Epistles), i.e. the Editio Critica Maior. I don't understand why he does not discuss its layout when proposing his own model.

    2. Neither Epp nor, perhaps, most of us consider the design of electronic editions of the GNT currently on the verge of being realized. IMHO- web-based electronic edition should be perceived bottom-up, i.e. start with transcriptions of the mss. Then produce an apparatus and link the two in order to be able to switch between the two. [For a start, visit the INTF website 'NT Transcripts' (currently unavailable, unfortunately).] Thirdly, link the two with images of the manuscripts, where available.

    In an case, a well conceived electronic edition should be able to integrate both views, i.e. variant-concious AND manuscript-concious, the latter, though, presumably to a lesser degree.

    Ulrich Schmid

  2. Thanks Ulrich,
    Re 1. I agree now that the lack of mention of ECM layout is very odd. Since his layout is not that far from an ECM-type layout. On p. 286 he does refer to 'the magnificent new Editio critica maior', but his comments focus only only on the minor changes to the text (here he is too "variant conscious" so underestimates the new methodological basis for the ECM which go beyond 'minor refinements based on new textual evidence or fresh evaluations of available witnesses').
    Re 2. Yes, that is going to be interesting. One could say that up until now the use of electronic data has served to detach the TEXT from the apparatus (in e.g. Bibleworks and Accordance). The next stage needs to bring them back together and enhance their relationship with images of manuscripts.