Question: one person wondered why the selected critical editions where chosen, and why others (such as the earlier editions of the GNT by Eberhard Nestle) were not.
Reply: The selection of four editions to serve as primary resources for establishing the new SBL edition—WH, Tregelles, Robinson-Pierpont, and the Greek text behind the NIV translation—is based on a combination of reasons. Westcott-Hort—the starting point for both the early Nestle and the UBS editions—is a classic, and an obvious choice (and it was available in e-format). Re the Byzantine tradition: unlike WH, I’m convinced that at points, only the Byzantine tradition preserves the original reading, and so it had to be represented in the mix. Also, it is the textual tradition of choice for the Orthodox tradition, and so deserved to be represented. The Robinson-Pierpont edition (available in e-format) is an excellent representative of the Byzantine tradition, and thus was an easy choice in this regard. As for Tregelles, I’ve long been impressed by his independent and insightful judgment, an impression confirmed by David Parker’s analysis of the text of James in the Editio Critica Maior in comparison to earlier editions, which validated a high percentage of Tregelles’ choices. With Tyndale House having recently made it available in e-form, it commended itself as a good counterpoint to WH.
The choice of a modern critical edition was more complicated. First, there aren’t many to choose from. Second, the publishers were rightly concerned that the new edition have a clear and uncontestable copyright—both for the sake of the new edition, and out of respect for existing editions. Thus in light of their concerns it seemed best not to use NA26-7/UBS3-4 in the initial stages of creating the SBL edition. Once this decision was made, then the reconstructed Greek text behind the NIV translation commended itself as an alternative: it records, where it differs from UBS/NA, the independent textual choices of the original NIV translation committee (an international group of respected scholars), yet (because the NIV translation committee used the UBS/NA text as its starting point) it reflected, indirectly, the NA/UBS textual tradition as well. In effect, using the Greek text behind the NIV allowed the project to maintain a clear copyright, to acknowledge (indirectly) the well-earned excellence and stature of the NA/UBS editions, and to include (where the NIV differs from the NA/UBS text) a contemporary alternative perspective to the textual decisions of the committee responsible for the NA/UBS editions.
In short, the choice of these four editions to serve as initial resources (but certainly not the only resources) for building the new SBL text reflects a combination of historical considerations, text-critical theory, publishers’ concerns, and pragmatic considerations.
What about other editions? Each has benefits, but also drawbacks. For example, Tischendorf relied too heavily on Sinaiticus. Von Soden (still valuable as a source of information) built his text on flawed theoretical assumptions; and Vogels, Merk, and Bover are heavily influenced by von Soden. The original Nestle tradition was built on the editions of WH, Tischendorf, and (after Weymouth) B. Weiss, who like WH was heavily influenced by Vaticanus, so the Nestle text (up through the 25th edition) is very similar to WH. Either one would provide a good starting point, but both together add little to what one gains from either one alone. Similar considerations apply to other potential candidates (such as the Greek text, edited by R. V. G. Tasker, putatively behind the New English Bible).
Question #2: “Why is the NIV considered more standard than the NA in the Apparatus?”
Reply: I don’t consider the Greek text behind the NIV translation “more standard” than the NA text. The fact that “NIV” is visually more present in the apparatus than “NA” is largely a matter of pragmatism. Let me explain in two steps. First, once the Greek text behind the NIV was selected as one of the four primary resources for the new SBL edition (see the answer to the first question above for the reasons behind this choice), it had to be included in the apparatus alongside the other three editions. Second, from the start I wanted the apparatus to include the evidence of the NA/UBS text, from which the Greek text behind the NIV differs at about 235 or so places. So now the question was a practical one: how best to incorporate the NA testimony into an apparatus that already includes the NIV testimony? Option 1: insert the NA evidence at every one of the 6928 variants, or option 2: insert it explicitly only at those 235 or so places where it reads differently than the NIV, and for the other nearly 6700 places let the NIV stand for both NA and NIV. With either option, the full testimony of NA is present in the apparatus. However, option 2 results in a more compact apparatus, and reduces the chances for error in constructing the apparatus, so the choice was made to adopt option 2 rather than option 1. Note that the choice is entirely a pragmatic one, and does not imply any claim that the “NIV” is somehow “more standard” than NA. Given the sequence in which the apparatus was built, it was simply a pragmatic choice to cite NA only where it differs from NIV. In any case, the full testimony of NA is presented, either explicitly or implicitly, in the SBL GNT apparatus for every one of its 6928 variation units.
Question #3: Would the end product be different if I had started with the manuscripts rather than editions? That is, did the use of existing editions rather than the manuscripts as the starting point for the SBL edition bias the outcome?
Reply: I don’t think that the end result would have been any different if I had started with the manuscripts rather than existing editions. To explain why, let me quote a section from the Introduction to the edition:
Where all four editions agreed, the text was tentatively accepted as the text of the SBL edition; points of disagreement were marked for further consideration. The editor then worked systematically through the entire text, giving particular attention to the points of disagreement but examining as well the text where all four editions were in agreement. Where there was disagreement among the four editions, the editor determined which variant to print as the text; occasionally a reading not found in any of the four editions commended itself as the most probable representative of the text and therefore was adopted. Similarly, where all four texts were in agreement, the editor determined whether to accept that reading or to adopt an alternative variant as the text.That is, once the four editions were compared, I then systematically went through the entire text of the NT in light of the manuscript evidence, not only where one or more of the four differed, but also where all four were in agreement (and at several places, I did adopt a reading not found in any one of the four). In short, the entire SBL text was decided on in light of the manuscript evidence (not on the basis of the editions); in addition, in view of the fact that there are places throughout where I either agree with each one of the four against the other three (SBL/WH vs. Treg NIV RP: 98x; SBL/RP vs. WH Treg NIV: 66x; SBL/NIV vs. WH Treg RP: 59x; SBL/Treg vs. WH NIV RP: 28x) or reject all four, I don’t think the use of existing critical editions biased the outcome.