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A Text That Doesn’t Exist! What Do NT Translators Actually Translate?

In my previous post I began to explain that virtually all translators of the New Testament – except fundamentalists who continue to appeal to the Textus Receptus (the inferior form of the Greek text based on the original publication of Erasmus back in 1516, which does not take into account, obviously, discoveries of newer manuscripts) – rely on the form of the Greek text established by an international group of scholars from 1955-1965.  This edition has been revised since then, but not significantly.  The text is pretty much the same now as then, with a few changes here and there.

Two points I would like to stress about this United Bible Societies text of the New Testament.  The first point is in response to a question I received, by someone who asked with understandable incredulity: do you mean every translator simply takes the committee’s word for it?  Do they simply translate what others have decided was the original text?  The answer to that question is both yes and no.  It’s actually not quite that simple.

Translators do almost always use that text as the base text they start with.  But at every point …

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How Variant Readings are Noted in the Greek New Testament
The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  February 20, 2017

    Why do you use UBS, edition 5 instead of Novum Testamentum Graece, edition 28? Are there any significant differences between the two?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      See today’s post. I use the N-A 28th for my own work.

  2. Avatar
    dragonfly  February 20, 2017

    I don’t have any problem with this. The goal is not one of the manuscripts, it’s the original text. The manuscripts are just clues to the original text. This just demonstrates that we don’t have the original text, but hopefully we have enough clues to reconstruct the original text.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      Yes, I agree. I don’t have much of a problem with it either.

  3. Avatar
    annepquast  February 20, 2017

    I don’t know if this is relevant or not; however, in today’s e-mail I received a notice that the Messianic Bible group–based in Israel is currently translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. They seem to a a number of Hebrew scholars working on it. If I remember correctly, they intend to go on to translate the New Testament as they are planning to publish a completely new translation for the texts which are available to them.

  4. Avatar
    DominickC  February 20, 2017

    And all this, because we do not have a single original manuscript – from either Testament.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  February 20, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, aside from the Johannine Comma, what would you say is the textual contention with the most significant theological consequences?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      Well there are lots with interesting significance. One of my favorites is John 1:18. Does John call Jesus “the Unique God” or “the unique Son”? If the former, *that* would be significant! But I think he says the latter. (Difference between ΘΣ and ΥΣ, since the word is abbreviated as a numen sacrum in our mss)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  February 21, 2017

        That’s interesting, because the TR has hyios while NA has Theos! So you think the committee has it wrong on this one?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 22, 2017

          Yes, I have a long discussion of the variant in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I’ll consider posting some of that discussion on the blog.

  6. Avatar
    Hume  February 20, 2017

    Do you still pray? Even if it is only a mantra? Do you miss it?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      I meditate. In my experience, it leads to the same results.

  7. Avatar
    Timotei Rad  February 21, 2017

    Heaven was Textual Criticism! Thank you Bart!

  8. Avatar
    mjt  February 21, 2017

    So, let’s say I get the most recent copy of the NSRV, is there one single person responsible for translating the whole thing, who gets input from a committee? Is there one person assigned to translate Genesis, one to translate Mark…? Or is more than one person working on it together? (I assume the committee is there just for input, but the translator(s) actually produce the product?)

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      I tried to explain how the committee worked earlier in the thread: just check out the posts on the NRSV.

  9. Avatar
    John  February 21, 2017

    “….that means they are translating a text that is found in precisely NO Greek manuscript. ”

    Doesn’t that mean, as you frequently say, that they have just made up their own Gospel?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      In a sense, yes! Though unlike most Christians who unreflectively conflate the various Gospel accounts, these scholars are conscientious and methodical, to a fault.

  10. Avatar
    godspell  February 21, 2017

    It could be worse. You could be trying to reconstruct this.

    http://www.classicalpressofwales.co.uk/augustus.htm

    The most powerful and famous man of his time. The Empire he began lasted, in one form or another, until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. And he wrote a book. And all we have is a few tiny fragments and some commentary.

    As you said, welcome to the world of textual criticism.

    • Avatar
      The Agnostic Christian  March 4, 2017

      It’s sad that so much time and energy has been wasted. Endless colleges started with the sole purpose of studying the Bible. So much ink spilled on going over and over and over the same texts, ad nauseum. Much of it worthless. The ancient texts are just a lot of mumbo jumbo taken oh so seriously by the devout. And not just the Biblical texts, but Gnostic, Islamic, Hindu and others all have been carefully preserved and studied for thousands of years.

      And here we have an important memoir by one of the most important figures in world history. Lost. And only now has the first ever comprehensive study been done on the few fragments that remain.

      Shame. Shame on the human race.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 21, 2017

    The complexity of this task continues to stun me and I continue to be impressed by those who do this task. I also remain impressed that John Mill spent 30 years identifying 30,000 textual variants in 100 Greek texts. Where oh where did “the” Bible go?

    I have certainly read a number of books where the author immediately starts quoting the Bible without first addressing the complex issue of why he or she is quoting the Bible much less the issue of what Bible they are quoting. An example would be “The Purpose Driven Life.”

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 21, 2017

    One thing I have heard repeatedly is the claim that God inspired the whole Bible process including writing, copying and translation and that knowing this is a matter of “faith.” Did the members of the NRSV committee feel that they were being directed by God when they made their decisions and had their votes? Did they open their meetings with prayer asking for God’s guidance before they started voting?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 21, 2017

      As it turns out, yes, Metzger always began each session with prayer.

  13. Avatar
    Habakuk  February 21, 2017

    A question for the mailbag:

    You mentioned quite some times – both in your books as well as here – that there were certain writings that were once considered scripture by some orthodox church fathers, but didn’t make it into the NT. And on the other hand there are some writings in the NT that were disliked by certain church fathers.

    Could you name some examples for either case (if possible with the name of the scholar who approved/disapproved of the text)? Were there debates about one of the four gospels among early orthodox theologians?

    For example, I heard (not sure from where) that some early scholars were suspicious of the gospel of John because of possible Gnostic influences.

    Could you shed some light on this topic?

  14. Avatar
    Theonedue  February 22, 2017

    When Jesus said that the father was greater than he was, what is the Greek word for greater and what does it mean (can its meaning change based on context)?

    Do you think the author of Mark knew and apostle of Jesus or even knew someone who knew an apostle?

    Was not the first sin of Eve the lie she said to the serpent (about God saying she could not touch the fruit because she already felt so limited [I guess] by the serpents questioning)? Even if the fall came from Adam, should not Eve have realized her nakednees and known good from evil by experience after misquoting God? Since human limitations (i.e short term memory, every day fallibilities) did not exist until after sin, this seems to be a biblical conundrum.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 24, 2017

      1. It’s simply the Greek equivalent of the word greater, and carries pretty much the same connnotations. 2. No

  15. Avatar
    The Agnostic Christian  March 4, 2017

    It doesn’t seem to be any more than a superficial problem. All of the variants come from some text. And through careful deliberation the attempt is to get to the best and most likely reading. Thus what we have is most likely a text closer to what the original actually was.

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