Sunday, March 15, 2009

The UBS GNT: A Reader's Edition (without apparatus)

Ryan Wettlaufer reminded me of one of the reviews included in the latest RBL newsletter. It is a review of The UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition by Cynthia Long Westfall (McMaster Divinity College) here. The thing about these reader's editions - and there is at least one other out there published by Zondervan - is that they provide basic vocabulary on every page, but omit the critical apparatus. The vocabulary is an obvious advantage for improving one's reading skills, but the danger, I suppose, is that the usage of the critical apparatus may become more marginalized in the study of the GNT. This is of course much up to the lecturer.

In any case, Long Westfall ends her review with the following conclusion:

As a pedagogical tool, it is not meant to take the place of the UBS4 with its critical apparatus, nor does it claim to obviate the need for lexicons or other resources. I do not believe that these omissions are detrimental to the motivated intermediate reader who is building reading skills. In my experience, the ongoing critical use of apparatus and the regular study of lexicons are implemented somewhat late in the program of study by the average Greek student, except when the student is doing an exegetical assignment. However, if students are able to build reading fluency early in their study, they are more likely to build on their linguistic competency with the consistent use of critical tools. I have worn out a couple of UBS texts, so, though sympathetic, I am not impressed by the objection that a student must own two Greek Bibles if he or she uses this tool.

Do you agree with her?


  1. I would encourage my students to purchase the VIS-ED flashcards and a critical GNT with no parallel English or dictionary included. Having the aids immediately available is too much of a crutch. It is also more convenient to consult a separate dictionary.

  2. I'm a bad one to comment, since I have at least 5 GNTs and have given away at least one. But, if they are serious about Greek, they need at least the NA 27—and I always encourage the large print so they can keep using it after they turn 50!—and the reader's edition isn't a bad thing, either.


  3. Many articles and reviews have already commented on the relative insignificance of the GNT apparatus as compared with that of NA27; some in fact have suggested that the purpose best served by the UBS edition is indeed that of a "reader's version", since it theoretically is intended for missionary translators in the first place.

    Nevertheless, it would seem preferable that any "reader's edition" based closely on the UBS text should list the major translatable variant readings cited by the UBS editors in the footnotes (albeit without needing to restate the evidence for such variant readings in a full-blown apparatus.

  4. I'm not sure if this has been noted here or not, but Stan Porter has started a website called that might be of interest to your readers.

  5. Thanks for posting this Tommy. I'm split on the issue myself.

    With all of his talk about producing a "variant conscious" edition, I doubt Eldon Epp would look very favourably at this readers edition, and to a degree I can see what I think his point would be.

    By presenting a pristine text with no variants, it can't help but give the impression, even if it's only a subconscious one, that the text is more intact than it is. I don't think that's a good mindset for students to develop, since it will simply give them one more unhelpful assumption. As stendahl said, our vision is more often obscured by what we think we know than by our lack of knowledge. Why give them one more thing they think they know?

    I also wonder how it will affect their future text critical decisions. Someone once told me that no matter how good subsequent cover versions are, most people will always prefer the version of the song that they heard first (thus, for example, even though Chicago's early 90's remake of their own song "25 or 6 to 4" is a terribly lame and bland electro-dance monstrosity while the original 70's version is an awesome kicking blues number, for some reason I still prefer the 90's version, because that's the one I grew up with.) In the same way, I wonder if these students, should they grow into textual critics, will subconsciously favour the reading chosen by this edition simply because that's the one they grew up reading and are used to seeing there, all pristine and unvariated?

    Maybe these concerns are minor in the end, but I think Maurice Robinson's suggestion of at least listing the translatable variants even without attestation would have been a great way to alleviate these concerns without taking up too much more space.

    Now, another issue, does the adjacent dictionary function as a crutch, as Christian Askeland suggests? I don't know, I'm torn on that one too.

    The wrong aid certainly can be a crutch. I'm convinced that the primary reason I failed intermediate Greek the first time (ok, I didn't fail it, but the mark was low enough that I re-took it) was because I discovered Han's parsing guide in the library!

    The right aid, however, doesn't need to be a crutch, and I'm not sure proximity is the deciding factor.

    The analogy that comes to me is my own experiences with English spelling and MS Word spell check.
    Though it's my first language, my English spelling has always been notoriously bad. When I was younger and they first invented spell check, it was a terrible crutch for me that made things worse. This was the first generation of spell check that you had to run separately at the end. You just typed your whole document, then ran spell check, and the computer quickly went through correcting one mistake after another. It was a terrible crutch though, and no help to my spelling at all. Because I knew the check was coming at the end, I stopped caring about spelling while I was typing. Then at the end, because all the corrections came at once, they all jumbled together in my head and my memory did not association any one correction with any one mistake. The result is I just kept making the same mistakes and my spelling got worse.

    Then they invented a second generation of spell check that underlined your mistakes as you typed, and then you could choose to left click and see spelling options. Same technology, but slightly different application, and the result was that it stopped being a crutch and actually helped my spelling immensely. Because it drew my attention to the mistake immediately as I made it, my brain was able to associate the correction with the error, and then I was able to remember it the next time. Plus, rather then just left clicking to see the right spelling, I chose to attempt correcting it myself, which was easy to do because as soon as you changed the offending letters, the red underlining would disappear. Thus I learned how better to figure out the correct spellings too. Bottom line then, by increasing the proximity of the technology, they changed spell check from a crutch to an aid, and I'm the better for it.

    So this reader's edition, is it the second generation of spell check to the Han's parsing guide first generation? Has it turned a crutch into an aid, or has it just made a worse crutch? I just don't know, and I suppose the only way to find out would be to let a couple students use it for a couple years and ask them. I hope they don't fail intermediate Greek in the process though!

  6. In the interests of full disclosure:

    John Jeffrey Dodson has prepared a Reader's edition of the R-P Byzantine Textform (available as print on demand from Lightning Source, 2009), containing full parsing data for all verb forms as well as basic definitions for all words occurring less than 50 times (with a lexicon in the appendix that lists all verbs and forms occurring more than 50 times). No variant readings are listed therein, however.

    This work most definitely is a pony that beginning Greek students could ride to their own detriment. For more advanced students who have already mastered the basics, it could be a useful tool, particularly in relation to less common words or irregular verb forms. So also with the UBS or Zondervan Reader's editions.

  7. if the goal is to help students of NT Greek READ the text and increase their reading speed/comprehension, then I think something like the Reader's edition is a good way to go -besides, it looks like a normal Bible so you can take it to church and not worry about upsetting others.