Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Paragraphing and Formatting in Nestle-Aland

The arrival of the THGNT has provoked us to think afresh about matters we normally take for granted like orthography, paragraphing, and even punctuation. With that provocation in mind, I was interested to see this description in my newly-acquired NA26, the first NA edition, you may remember, to move away from Nestle’s tradition of following other critical editions.
The system of paragraph divisions has been developed more extensively than before, and not simply for greater clarity. It is designed to aid the reader’s understanding of the writings by clarifying their structure, e.g., in the Gospels distinguishing the primitive units. The strophic printing of verse has been expanded, perhaps even too much at times but further revision is always possible. The same holds for punctuation, which seek to follow Greek usage in contrast to the earlier Nestle which was dominated by German usage, and The Greek New Testament where the influence is English.

Old Testament quotations are not printed in bold face as before (and in The Greek New Testament), but in italics. We hope this will be welcomed as a means of making them distinct , but without the overemphasis to which their frequency in bold face tended. They have also been completely revised: the problems involved here are familiar. (Intro, p. 44*)
Remember that NA and UBS share the same text, but not necessarily orthography, paragraphing, or punctuation. Regarding the last of these, I knew that Nestle had followed German comma rules but I didn’t realize that these were revised in the NA26 to follow “Greek usage.”

It is also interesting (to me, at least) that the NA26 introduction says that “the font used is certainly lacking in the simplicity and clarity of that used for The Greek New Testament.” That font, of course, was Porson. Metzger—rightly!—bemoaned the loss of “the beautiful Porson font” from the UBS4 which, he tells us, he had recommended for the earlier editions (Reminiscences, p. 73). For its part, the NA26 blames the font change on the need for a typeface “that could be used in diglot editions.”


  1. I'm curious about the specific nature of the change in punctuation. By "Greek usage," did they just mean modern Greek usage, or was there some consultation of the manuscripts to determine usage in earlier Greek?

    I agree that Porson is a beautiful typeface, but my biggest gripe with it is that it has upright capitals and slanted lowercase letters. Historically, this is true to form (we can see it in minuscule manuscripts and the early printed editions), but I think it would look inconsistent and distracting to modern readers. Besides that, the fact that the lowercase letters already look italic would have required a different approach to marking Old Testament quotations in NA26; this would have meant sticking with the overemphasis of bold face, using all caps (as in Westcott-Hort), or perhaps marking the quotations with marginal diples (true to the practice found in many manuscripts, but not as precise when it comes to identifying the boundaries of the quotation).

    1. Joey, I had the same question about the commas and I have no idea what "Greek usage" means. As for Porson, you are right and many have found the difference between its capitals and lowercase jarring. So much so that there have been versions with slanted capitals. In 1913, for example, Monotype released a version that replaced the upright capitals with inclined ones (see here). But I prefer the original design with upright.

    2. David Holly's NA25-NA26 collation is precise down to the level of punctuation, so a look at the changes he collates might shed some light on what the introduction was talking about.

      Is GFS Olga the fully-slanted version of Porson you were describing? It looks all right, but I agree that Porson still looks nicer. If anything, I'd be interested in seeing the "problem" solved the opposite way, by making the lowercase letters upright. An upright Porson might have been usable for NA26. (It's odd to me that its limited character set would be such an issue to the committee. Having one typeface for everything is convenient, but pairing fonts is standard practice.)

      And at any rate, if the upright-slanted contrast were to work anywhere, I feel like it would work in a printed Greek NT. This is especially true for a more carefully-formatted edition like the THGNT, since the reproduction of ekthesis would lend itself well to a different look for capital letters. But again, I guess using an italic-looking face for continuous reading is less functional for readers used to Roman.

    3. Yeah, GFS Olga gives you an idea of slanted uppercase letters for Porson. The Lowercase are more cursive though. Where is David Holly's collation of NA25/26?

    4. It's a bit hard to come by, as it's out of print and Amazon doesn't have it in stock, but I was able to get my copy from Book Depository (

  2. I agree that THEGNT is helpful in provoking thoughts about paragraphing. An obvious problem is that as soon as it has provoked a thought or question about its paragraphing THEGNT doesn't offer any more help. We don't have any explanations or information. And THEGNT is, to my mind, extremely/overly enthusiastic about inserting paragraphs where the early manuscripts have relatively few (check, e.g. Romans 16). It looks like they've followed 4th/5th century majuscules rather than the (limited) earlier evidence. I find THEGNT paragraphing interesting, but I tend to think of NA paragraphing more convincing as an expression of what they were after.

  3. THGNT paragraphing is a starting point for readers, not an end point. It's composite and eclectic and so it's always worth consulting the mss. I hope that it encourages more people to consult mss. Also, it's sometimes sparse and at other times dense. All of Rev. 4 is one paragraph, but Rev 6 is 7 paragraphs. This somewhat reflects the mss, but not entirely. It's also a product of editorial guidelines insisting on two witnesses.

    However, I do think that this means of paragraphing is a considerable improvement on NA, which will often be based on the anachronistic view of a paragraph (= textual unit) as grouping related ideas, rather than of a paragraph marker highlighting change (of which change of idea is only one form).