The publication of The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (hereafter SBLGNT) is indeed significant. It represents a considerable amount of work, and the editor, ETC blogger Michael Holmes, has clearly spent a lot of time on a large range of textual decisions.
Although it is hard to prove motivation, I am personally confident that the main reason for SBL’s support of this edition is the question of copyright and the desire to have a modern critical edition of the GNT which can circulate freely on the web. This is manifest not only from the second paragraph of the Preface, but also from the choice of base editions: Nestle-Aland, which, though under copyright, would have been an ideal edition to include, has been largely excluded, while the editions of Westcott and Hort (WH), Tregelles (Treg), Goodrich and Lukaszewski (NIV), and Robinson and Pierpont (RP) have formed the main basis for textual comparison.
CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH NA27
What is therefore so striking to me is how much the SBLGNT actually resembles NA27 rather than differs from it. Where it differs the most is in text-critical decisions, where Holmes has obviously invested a lot of work. This is of course the most important area in which to differ. However, in most other matters it is very close to NA27.
The text was produced initially through conforming WH’s edition to the ‘orthographic standards of the SBLGNT’ (p. xi), which turn happen to be those of BDAG (p. xii). Now BDAG claims that its ‘principal New Testament textual base is Nestle-Aland27’ (BDAG, p. x), and affirms a relationship to Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 1988) edited by Kurt and Barbara Aland (BDAG, p. vii). So in essence the base text that was used was a version of WH with more or less NA27’s spelling, and of course we must remember that WH and NA27 do have a historical relationship, through the use of WH by Eberhard Nestle.
Another sign of the closeness of SBLGNT and NA27 is the use of Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, A Reader’s Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). This text is essentially that of NA27, altered in 231 places where it is believed that the NIV editors made a different decision.
Holmes gives a helpful table of agreements and disagreements on p. xii (adapted):
Thus the relationship between SBLGNT and ‘NIV’ (Goodrich and Lukaszewski) is especially close.
Verse division follows NA27; paragraphing follows NRSV. ‘Punctuation generally follows that of Westcott and Hort. Regular exceptions include instances where a textual decision of the adoption of NRSV paragraphing required a corresponding change in punctuation. … Conflicts between NRSV paragraphing and Westcott and Hort punctuation have been resolved on a contextual basis.’ (p. xiv).
What may not be so obvious here is yet another influence from the NA/UBS tradition. The NRSV claims to have followed UBS3 (with information available from the preparation of UBS4). ‘Only in very rare instances have we replaced the text or the punctuation of the Bible Societies’ edition by an alternative that seemed to us to be superior.’ (NRSV preface ‘To the Reader’).
These factors together explain the significant family resemblance which SBLGNT has to NA27.
This is not to say that independence of thought is not shown throughout in textual and paratextual decisions, but someone who has only used NA27 and then reads SBLGNT will encounter the largely familiar, whereas they would be more struck by differences in reading the more independently-minded editions of the 19th century.
One point of difference is the significant reduction in sigla used to point to variations. NA27 has special symbols for omissions (whether of a single word or multiple words), for insertions, and for reordering of words. These are all dropped and we are left with two basic sets of signs, one of which pertains to a single word and the other to multiple words. One has to look at the apparatus to find out whether there is a substitution, addition or omission.
The most frustrating siglum is probably ‘NIV’. It is, of course, not possible to tell from the English NIV whether it follows κρυφαίῳ or κρυπτῷ in Matthew 6:18 or whether it reads ἐκ or ἀπὸ in Matthew 7:4. Such instances could be multiplied. But of course ‘NIV’ does not mean the English NIV of 1984 (nor that of 2010), but Goodrich and Lukaszewski’s edition, itself based largely on NA27. No wonder the Introduction can say ‘NA is cited only when it differs from NIV’ (p. xv). It would be simpler if it simply said ‘NA27’, but the circuitous route of citation seems to be part of the plan to create a modern critical edition which can be circulated freely.
Undoubtedly the real usefulness of this edition is that it is available freely electronically and will therefore be used in all sorts of apps and may be widely copied. This really is useful, and the nature of the mistakes made (see errata below) shows clearly that the SBLGNT was not created using electronic code from a commercial version of NA27, but was indeed produced on the basis of WH, even though it has come to resemble NA27 uncannily.
However, I cannot say that I find the hard copy at all useful. It is a full centimetre higher and wider than NA27 and weighs 94g more, and if it is indeed a millimetre thinner that isn’t much compensation.
[Vital statistics: NA27 190mm × 136mm × 24mm; 490g; SBLGNT 210mm × 146mm × 23mm; 584g]
Moreover, if one wants to do any kind of critical work, one really isn’t able to do so because we do not know what manuscripts lie behind this edition without consulting other editions. In fact, one has no easy way of knowing whether any manuscripts lie behind the edition (e.g. for book titles).
What may be said is that Holmes has been a thorough and bold editor, generally eschewing brackets as a poor substitute for decisiveness. One may wonder why the Pericope Adulterae and Romans 16:25-27 are relegated to footnotes, whereas the ‘Intermediate Ending’ of Mark is placed in a section in the main body of the work in a section entitled ‘Other Endings of Mark’. Perhaps at least Romans 16:25-27 ought to have merited a section entitled ‘Other Endings of Romans’, since it is far more widely attested than the ‘Intermediate Ending’ of Mark.
Harder to understand are cases where there are differences between the editions and yet no variant is recorded. Thus in Luke 3:32 the form Ἰωβὴλ occurs with no variations marked. How many more times have differences between the editions been passed over in silence?
Aside from its generous copyright arrangement, this edition could have additional merit if scholars became convinced that where it differs from NA27 it was right more than 50% of the time.
One might be able to find out a certain amount about the editorial process through considering typographical errors. Purely for illustration I note how on lines 11-12 of p. xix a different Greek font appears for no reason, but I have not counted such minutiae systematically, nor have I systematically checked the apparatus.
Matthew 15:14 ὁδηγοί τυφλῶν
Matthew 15:15 παραβολήν ταύτην
Matthew 21:15 Δαυίδ ἠγανάκτησαν
Matthew 26:36 Γεθσημανὶ,
Matthew 27:24 ἰδὼν (elsewhere paragraphs begin with a capital)
Mark 4:2 πολλά καὶ
Mark 7:27 γάρ καλόν
Mark 14:72 δίς ἀπαρνήσῃ (apparatus)
Mark 15:14 κακόν ἐποίησεν (apparatus)
Luke 1:21 αὐτόν ἐν (apparatus)
Luke 1:27 Δαυὶδ,
Luke 2:51 Ναζαρὲθ,
Luke 5:1 Γεννησαρὲτ,
Luke 8:20 ἰδεῖν σε θέλοντές.
Luke 18:5 αὐτήν ἵνα
John 6:71 αὐτόν παραδιδόναι (apparatus)
John 7:34 εὑρήσετέ,
John 7:36 εὑρήσετέ,
John 7:42 Δαυὶδ, (2×)
John 10:29 μεῖζων ἐστιν
John 21:24 ἐστίν ἡ (apparatus)
Acts 2:29 Δαυὶδ,
Acts 3:25 Ἀβραάμ Καὶ
Acts 10:29 μεταπεμφθείς πυνθάνομαι
Acts 13:43 ἔπειθον· αὐτοὺς
1 Cor 14:37 ἐστὶν·
1 Tim 6:19 αἰωνιόυ (apparatus)
Titus 3:13 ζηνᾶν τὸν νομικὸν
Hebrews 2:26 ὅς οἶκός ἐσμεν
Hebrews 7:28 υἱόν, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τετελειωμένον (I find it hard to see why the comma should be there)
James 2:11 εἰπών Μὴ ... καί Μὴ
2 Peter 2:10 Τολμηταὶ,
Rev 9:11 Ἀβαδδών καὶ
Further errata, generally of a different kind can be found at:
The real significance of this text is the electronic release of its text with an enlightened End-User License Agreement. For this many users will be grateful. However, the hard copy of the SBLGNT is not significantly cheaper than NA27 and offers no advantages whilst having a number of significant disadvantages.