Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Textual Optimism of the UBS4

The grading system for variants in the UBS editions is probably its most distinctive feature. These ratings rank from A to D and indicate the relative level of certainty the editors felt in their decision (A being the most confident). I suspect this system has been a help to many translators over the years. For myself, the system is a rare and welcome peek behind the editorial curtain to one of our most important (and bestselling?) editions.

Over time, however, there is a noticeable and well-documented shift in these ratings without any additional explanation or justification. For example, the reading of Eph 5.22 is given a C in the UBS3 and a B in UBS4, but the textual commentary for this decision remains word-for-word the same. Kent Clarke called this “textual optimism” and his work on this is well worth consulting. (See the helpful summary from Mark Ward here.)

What I didn’t realize until today is that several of the editors owned up to this “textual optimism” and wrote about it even before the UBS4 was in print. Kurt and Barbara Aland say as much in their Text of the New Testament. On p. 45, they write about the UBS3 that “The only question is whether the editors have not been too cautious in applying the classifications, so that a B should often be replaced by an A, a C by a B, and a D by a C (a thorough reexamination has led to a revision of these for the fourth edition of GNT).” It does lead one to wonder how much responsibility for the increased textual optimism is the responsibility of the Alands.


  1. Clark's MA thesis version was fun to flip through while I was a student at Trinity Western University.

  2. I like the idea, though in my opinion it was not fully developed even by UBS4. (I don't have a UBS5; does it make any changes?) Tommy Wasserman's system in his Jude commentary is an improvement, as it is more specific about what does or does not instill confidence.