Friday, October 02, 2020

Sung: How Kurt Aland Got Two Votes on the UBS Committee

The following is an email sent to me by Felix Sung and shared here with his permission. I have confirmed the gist of this second-hand account with another student of Dr. Bob Lyon. I would be happy to have others add any firsthand knowledge.
I read with interest your Aug 4, 2016 post on Kurt Aland’s opposition to voting in the ECM and the comments on the apparent inconsistency between his stated opposition to voting and his membership on the UBS editorial committee. I think I can shed a little light, albeit second hand, on the backstory.

I was a M.Div. (academic track) student at Asbury Theological Seminary from 1985–1988, during which I took five or six courses (several of which were independent studies) in NT TC with Robert W. Lyon [MA (Princeton) in NT TC under Metzger; Ph.D. (St. Andrews) in NT TC under Matthew Black (Diss. A Re-examination of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, 1958)].

Dr. Lyon—Bob, as he insisted we call him—served as Recording Secretary for the UBS Committee from 1957–1961 and claimed to have been present for the negotiations that led to a “gentlemen’s agreement” (Bob’s phrase) that resulted in UBS and NA printing the identical text.

The story, as Bob recounted it, is that during the runup to publication of UBS 1, Metzger and Black got wind of a rumor that Kurt Aland—without having informed either Nida or the Committee—was preparing a new edition of NA that he planned to publish after the UBS was published, but which would reflect his critical judgments alone, without regard to whether or not those judgments agreed with those of the Committee.

When confronted by Metzger and Black, Aland admitted that that was indeed the case, at which point Metzger and Black demanded that the NA text be identical to the UBS text, believing (probably rightly) that, since the NA text, with its fuller critical apparatus, was at the time—and in many circles still is—considered the “scholarly” text, it would reflect negatively on their competence if the NA text differed from the UBS text, i.e., Aland would be saying, in effect, “Here’s what the UBS text should have been, except I was outvoted by those other incompetent boobs.”

Aland refused.

Metzger and Black went to Eugene Nida (American Bible Society’s Executive Secretary for Translations, who organized and oversaw the workings of the UBS Committee, “who also took part in Committee discussions, especially those relating to major decisions of policy and method,” Preface to UBS 1) and threatened to resign from the Committee.

Nida, who to this point knew nothing of Aland’s plan, and seeing years of work, planning, and tremendous expense about to go up in flames, put the screws to Aland and got him to agree to publish a text identical to that of the UBS … but not before Aland had extracted his “pound of flesh”—Matthew Black’s expression, according to Bob, for the concession Nida made to get Aland’s agreement. That is, Nida agreed that Aland’s view would be printed in the body of the text whenever the Committee deadlocked on which variant represented the “original” or “best” reading. In effect, Nida gave Aland two votes in those instances, meaning that whenever the Committee was evenly divided on a reading or split 3–2 with Aland in the minority, Aland’s view ended up in the text, because he could use his second vote to break the tie or force a deadlock. (This naturally raises the question of whether or not the other Committee members ever “ganged up” against Aland to ensure that one of his pet readings didn’t make it into the text.)

Incidentally, Bob—whom Metzger arranged to have fill in for him at Princeton while Metzger was on sabbatical in 1964 to work on the Textual Commentary—speculated that the phrasing “Some members … others” and the “A majority of the Committee … a minority …” in the Textual Commentaries was Metzger’s way of indicating the places where Aland exercised his second vote to prevail against the simple majority of the Committee.


  1. Yet it took until UBS3 before the identity of text between UBS and NA was forged. Why so long, if all these events were transpiring from the time of UBS1 in 1966?

    1. Presumably the Committee did not immediately revisit every decision that it had already made. This is certainly an interesting new light in which to reread J.K. Elliott's review of UBS3.

  2. Does this mean Aland effectively got 3 votes when in a 3-2 minority (ie: initial vote, 2nd vote forcing deadlock; AND the deciding vote to break the deadlock)?...

    1. The photograph of the UBS committee in the link above includes six members, five plus Aland. So a 3-2 vote is without Aland's first vote cast. His two-vote support for the minority position then made it 3-4 (Aland wins).

    2. Klaus Junack is sitting on the left. He is was not a Committee member. Move with the mouse on the picture (late 80's?, on from right to left and see the names of Carlo Maria Martini, Kurt Aland, Allen Wikgren, Bruce Metzger, Matthew Black and Klaus Junack.

    3. Teunis, thanks for that link and those names. I recognized all but Carlo. In that case, Steve Selke is correct. A 3-1 vote with Aland voting with the 1 in the minority would result in a 3-4 vote with Aland winning. So he effectively had 3 votes. All he needed was 1 vote to be the decider.

  3. So . . . what had to happen to get a "D" rating re: difficulty?

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Using a fake name to leave a childish comment?

    3. This offensive comment should be removed.

    4. Sexists comments will get deleted, Roy.

    5. That's fine, but it's probably more in line with the truth than most would allow nowadays, and it was meant to be funny--not sexist!

      And you fellas may want to steer clear from the OT if you think that comment was sexist or offensive.

      Quick question, who gave Mr. Kurt Aland the authority to have ANY vote on what the Greek NT and subsequent English translations should or shouldn't read? It seems to me like it was simply a human endeavor, and his second vote was quite frankly strong-armed from other MEN who apparently had no power or guts to stand against the almighty Aland. The sooner that fine, intelligent, Christian men think through these obvious problems, the sooner NTTC can finally turn the corner.

  4. What I'd like to know is the story behind Allen Wikgren's dissenting note, at John 1:18, in both editions of Metzger's TCGNT.

  5. Matthew M. Rose10/04/2020 1:26 am

    Where is God in any of this?

    1. Like Elijah on Mt Carmel: in the still, small voice.

  6. Maybe less known is what Prof K. Aland wrote about working with three (!) Americans in the Committee in 'Die Grundurkunde des Glaubens: ein Bericht über 40 Jahre Arbeit an ihrem Text' in Bericht der HermanKunst-Stiftung zur Förderung der neutetsamentlichen Textforschung für die Jahre 1982 bis 1984. Münster, 1985, pp. 15-16:

    Die Arbeiten [= Collations for NA] waren
    bereits fortgeschritten, auch die der Textkonstitution, als mich die Aufforderung
    von Eugene A. Nida erreichte, in das Herausgeberkomitee des
    GNT einzutreten. Zwar hatten hier die Amerikaner - in Verfolgung der
    ursprünglichen Pläne - mit drei Mitgliedern die Mehrheit, aber außer dem
    Deutschen war auch ein Engländer, genauer gesagt: Schotte, zusätzlich
    aufgefordert worden. Der Mittelpunkt und Motor des Ganzen war der
    zuständige Abteilungsleiter der ABS, Eugene A. Nida, was die Voraussetzung
    dafür war, daß das Unternehmen zu einem glücklichen Ende kommen
    konnte. Mehr als 10 Jahre lang sind wir - meist in den USA - alljährlich
    zu 6wöchigen konzentrierten Beratungen zusammengetroffen,
    in der Zwischenzeit erfolgten die Materialbereitstellung fur die nächste
    Tagung und die Ausführung der Beschlüsse der letzten. Auch das geschah
    vor allem in den USA, je länger je mehr verlagerten sich Teile der Arbeit
    aber nach Münster.
    Meine Lage war schwierig: einerseits liefen - mit ausdrücklicher Zustimmung
    aller Beteiligten - die Arbeiten an der Neubearbeitung des Nestle
    weiter, deren Resultate ich selbstverständlich in die Beratungen für den
    Text des GNT einbrachte. Andererseits sammelte ich bei den Diskussionen
    des Herausgeberkomitees Einsichten und Erfahrungen, die oft nur in
    bewegtem Hin und Her und nicht am stillen Schreibtisch zu erlangen
    sind. Vorläufig schien es jedenfalls so, daß das Herausgeberkomitee
    infolge seiner Stimmenmehrheit (über jede Entscheidung wurde abgestimmt)
    einen Text herstellen würde, der zu sehr vom mechanisch ange-.
    wandten Prinzip »die kürzere Lesart ist die richtige«, von den
    Anschauungen von Sodens und Vogels' und von der Voraussetzung der
    fortdauernden Unfehlbarkeit Westcotts und Horts bestimmt wäre. Erst
    nach heftigen Diskussionen, bei denen ein amerikanisches Mitglied ausschied
    und ein zweites immer wieder mit dem Gedanken des Rücktritts
    spielte, bewegten sich die beiden Ausgaben mehr aufeinander zu, allerdings
    noch so, daß sie weit von einer Deckung entfernt waren, und Prälat
    Schlatter mich immer wieder bedrängte, doch den neuen Nestle separat
    abzuschließen und zu veröffentlichen. Als 1966 schließlich termingemäß
    die erste Ausgabe des Greek New Testament erschien, war diese Frage
    immer noch nicht entschieden. Aber es gelang, in der 2. Ausgabe des
    GNT von 1968 neben einer Reihe anderer Probleme vor allem die der sog.
    Western non-interpolations zufriedenstellend zu regeln. So konnte für die
    3. Ausgabe schließlich all das an Textunterschieden zur Debatte gestellt
    werden, was vom neuen Nestle her noch an Textdifferenzen vorlag. In
    dieser dritten Ausgabe von 1975 ist dann die Einheit der beiden Texte endgültig
    hergestellt worden. Ohne die ständige Unterstützung, die Erfahrung
    und die Weisheit von Eugene A. Nida wäre das nicht möglich gewesen.
    Er hatte in den vieljährigen Diskussionen des Komitees immer wieder
    eine entscheidende Rolle gespielt, ohne ihn wäre der Plan schon in einem
    frühen Stadium gescheitert. Er hat auch dafür Sorge getragen,'daß die
    Ausgabe nicht bei der American Bible Society geblieben ist, obwohl diese
    alle Vorarbeiten finanziert hatte, sondern an die United Bible Societies
    weitergegeben wurde.

    1. Very interesting, Tuenis. Thanks for sharing. Who exactly are the 3 Americans though? Metzger, Wikgren, and Nida?

    2. Metzger, Vööbus and Wikgren.

      I refer to K. Aland's 'The Present Position of New Testament Textual Criticism', a paper read on the International Congress on The Four Gospels in 1957, that is published as Studia evangelica. (Papers presented to the International Congress on "The four gospels in 1957" held at Christ Church, Oxford, 1957). [Ed. by Kurt Aland ... et al.]. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1959.
      I quote from the edition The Gospels reconsidered : a selection of papers read at the International Congress on the Four Gospels in 1957. Oxford: Blackwell, 1960, pp. 1-15.
      On p. 1 Aland said about the first meetings of the Committee:
      "After preliminary duscussions the editiorial committee met for its first working session in the autumn of last year [1956]. It includes three Americans: Bruce M. Metzger (Princeton), Arthur Vööbus (Maywood, Allan F. Wikgren (Chicago, one British scholar: Matthew Black (St. Andrews), and one German: Kurt Aland (Halle-Berlin). This year [1957] they have had a second session and is planned to have further sessions at least during the next four years. In the beginning of 1958 we hope to see in print a booklet explaining the aims and giving details of the work."
      From the first draft of that booklet Aland said: "The number of variants mentioned will be confined to about two or three thousand (in comparison with the 10,000 of the Nestle)." Are the'heftige Diskussionen' the reason that only 1,400 variants are in UBS1?

      Vöobus is the one who retired from the Committee after four years and obviously Wikgren is the Amercian who 'immer wieder mit dem Gedanken des Rücktritts spielte'.

    3. On p. *11* Aland said about the first meetings of the Committee ...

  7. UBS1 preface: "The Editorial Committee which was responsible for preparing this edition consisted of Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger and Alien Wikgren, with the participation of Arthur Voobus during the first part of the work. The project was initiated, organized and administered by Eugene A. Nida, who also took part in Committee discussions, especially those relating to major decisions of policy and method. J. Harold Greenlee and Robert P. Markham, as secretaries of the Committee, handled a mass of detail with skill and competence."

    Were the committee members who resigned after various "heated discussions" Wikgren and Vööbus?

    Also, since Greenlee and Markham were recording secretaries of the committee, it would be interesting if notes regarding the "heated discussions" that led to such resignations were somewhere available as a point of history. Do they still exist?

    1. Wikgren seems indeed to have been a man of independent mind and spirit. See my earlier query re his dissident note at John 1:18 - I wonder to what else he dissented.

  8. Have any UBS insiders ever disclosed more specifically what criteria were used for their grades beyond what is written about them in the introductions to the various UBS editions and Metzger's commentary? I believe that a C grade was described as something like, "the committee had difficulty making a decision," and a D grade was something like, "the committee had great difficulty making a decision."

    I wonder if the D grade indicates places where the opinion of only a minority of the committee (i.e. Aland and one other) was printed in the main text over the objection of a majority.

    1. Here’s the problem: it doesn’t matter how much justification editors give for their decisions, readers always want more. With the ECM, we can actually see every variant relation that the editors decided and, with Acts, we have a textual commentary too. But people still complain about them not explaining themselves more. But an editor has to stop somewhere. Would I like more detail about the UBS decisions? Yes. Do I fault the editors for not giving it to me? No. As Ricky Nelson taught us about editing a Greek New Testament: “ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”

    2. How about: "ya can't please everyone, but ya got to please God!"

    3. Certainly for life, yes.

  9. But not the New Testament text?...hmmm

    1. As far as I know, God has no stated opinion on the number or detail of editorial comments we should provide for a critical edition. So, I’m not sure what would or wouldn’t please him in that respect.

  10. In Metzger's first edition of 'A TC on the GNT' of 1975 (corr.), I counted 22 comments within square brackets, appended to the main discussion and holding a minority opinion. (Maybe there are more!)
    2 of KA, 1 of CMM, 10 of BMM, 2 of AW, 1 of KA/BMM, 6 of AW.

    In the case of Acts 16,12 "the majority of the Committee preferred to adopt the conjecture". According to Aland and Metzger "it appears ill-advised to abandon the testimony of [mss]". Clearly, the reading in The GNT (the conjecture) was adopted on the basis of a majoriy vote.

    1. Correction:
      2 of KA, 1 of CMM, 10 of BMM, 2 of AW, 1 of KA/BMM, 6 of *BMM/AW*.

  11. Dr. Voobus told me that he had more important things to do than sit around and vote on variants. I was a student of his and obtained a PhD in Syriac at the U. of Chicago under him. He was extremely focused on his numerous discoveries and making more discoveries, which really energized him.