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What *Greek* Version of the New Testament Do I Use?


I often indicate that when citing the New Testament in English, I’m giving my own translation, and that understandably has led some people to think I’ve actually citing a completed translation that I’ve made but not published.  A reader of the blog recently asked me how he could get access to the translation.  But I’ve never written a translation of the NT; when I say that a quotation is in “my” translation I simply mean that I’m reading the Greek with my eyes, translating it in my brain, and typing it with my fingers.   That’s a typical procedure for NT scholars.

The reader then asked an interesting and important corollary question: how do I know what Greek to be translating?  Here’s the question and my response.



How do you or any professional translator choose and get the right Greek version of the NT? I understand there were many manuscripts discovered and they are different in terms of content and time of writing. Many of them incomplete and none of them original. Is there any “official” Greek version which is used by translators or modern bible creators for translation into modern languages?



Ah right!  I probably should be more clear about that.  I was just now preparing to spend a half hour typing up an answer, when I realized I may have said something about it on the blog before, and lo and behold, a couple of years ago I did!  Here’s the full scoop.



When translators today produce a version of the Bible in English (or any other modern language) what is it that they are translating?  One of the manuscripts?  Several of the manuscripts?  Something else?

The answer, in virtually every instance, is the same.  They are translating an edition of the Greek New Testament published since 1965 (with revisions since then) produced by a small but international team of textual scholars assembled and commissioned by the United Bible Societies (various countries have a Bible Society – an organization devoted to the distribution of Bibles and the promotion of knowledge about the Bible: there is one in America, one in Britain, one in Germany, one in the Netherlands, etc; the “United” Bible Societies is the overarching organization with representatives of each country).

The team was assembled in 1955 in order to produce a standard edition of the Greek New Testament, based on an intense study of the available Greek manuscripts, early versions (i.e. ancient translations of the NT into Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, etc.), and quotations of the NT in the writings of the church fathers (from figures such as Irenaeus, Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, and so on).   The purpose of the edition was to…

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The Dangers of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalist Arguments Ad Absurdum about the “Original” Text of the NT



  1. Lev
    Lev  January 13, 2019

    I understand that when NA29 is published, it will favour the variant of Jn1:34 “is God’s chosen one” rather than “is the Son of God”. Do you have a sense of how many such changes occur between NA editions? Are the changes increasing or decreasing in frequency over time? I should imagine it depends on manuscript discoveries, but do other factors play a bigger role?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      I didn’t know that! No, I don’t know how much it will change, but I would bet my house that it wouldn’t be much! Almost none of the differences will be (as) significant (as this one).

      • Lev
        Lev  January 15, 2019

        I’ve managed to get some extra info on this. Apparently, David Parker, the editor of John’s gospel in the ECM (Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior) has worked through the first chapters already and according to Tommy Wasserman (Professor of Biblical Studies at Ansgar Teologiske Høgskole), he thinks Parker will favour the more difficult reading (“God’s chosen one”). It sounds like Wasserman is familiar enough with Parker to make this prediction.

        Here’s a link to a blog post by Wasserman where he discusses two 3rd C manuscript witnesses to Jn1:34: https://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2017/02/two-third-century-papyri-in-john-134.html

        He also cites your work in Orthodox Corruption.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2019

          Yes, I have no problem believing that the ECM will go with that reading. But it’s a different committee from the ones constructing the new UBSGNT.

          • Lev
            Lev  January 15, 2019

            Oh gosh – I’m getting lost in the acronyms here!

            Who produces the NA series, and is that different from the UBSGNT? I’m so confused!!

          • Bart
            Bart  January 17, 2019

            Sorry, I was talking short hand. The Editio Critica Maior is produced by a German group based in Muenster but based on the work of the British International Greek New Testament Project, largely carried out at Birmingham, that Parker has long been the head of. The United Bible Societies Greek New Testament is a separate committee that provides the test used by the Nestle Aland editions. There is indeed overlap of scholars on some of these committees, but they are not the same committees.

  2. epicurus
    epicurus  January 13, 2019

    I doubt anyone on the Aland Metzger team was a biblical inerrantist!

  3. Avatar
    nichael  January 13, 2019

    >> “You can get one! It’s simply called The Greek New Testament (by the United Bible Societies).”

    If I could add a slight suggestion, the edition of the USBGNT that I own comes bound with a nifty little Greek/English lexicon in the back.

    (I realize, of course, that folks like Dr Ehrman don’t need anything like this. But I though it might be of interest to other readers here who might be considering getting themselves a copy.)

    The lexicon is also available as separate volume.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      Ah, it was a real godsend when I was learning Greek….

  4. Avatar
    nichael  January 13, 2019

    While you’ve never undertaken a complete translation of the NT, as you note most translations from the NT in your books are your own.

    Out of curiosity, do you keep a systematic copy of passages that you’ve previouisly translated? Or, in those instances where you need to make a particular translation Is it effectively “new”? (Although no doubt similar, if not identical, to any previous translation[s] that you might have made.)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      No, I’ve never written down translations, except when I’m publishing something (or on the blog, etc.) when I have to render a text. But I always just do it in my head.

  5. Avatar
    nichael  January 13, 2019

    1] Given your experience and expertise in these matters, it sounds like it might be pretty reasonable to describe you as more or less “bilingual” in the Greek/English NT, in the sense that you have a great deal of the Greek-to-English translation automatically “under your fingers”. What fraction of the Greek NT would you say that you “just know” what the corresponding English is, without having to “work at” translating it?

    2] Are there cases where you find this skill problematic? For example do you ever find yourself grinding your teeth when you read a common English translation of a given passage? I.e. not necessarily because the translator has done a bad job of translating a passage, but rather because the nature of any translation is just inherently problematic and *that’s*just*not*what*it*means*!!

    Are there any specific examples?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      I don’t have an English version of the Greek in my head. I just read the Greek and translate it whenever I see the words on the page. And yes, a translator *always* has complaints about someone else’s translation! There are so many of them, that none actually stands out in my head (since I don’t really read English translations that often, and when I do it’s almost always the NRSV with which, most of the time, I tend to agree).

  6. Avatar
    brenmcg  January 13, 2019

    Would there be many variants in say the B,C,D rankings where you’d hold the minority viewpoint on what the original was?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      Yes indeed; but I don’t use that edition any more and so don’t remember — and haven’t ever catalogued — the ones I feel strongly about (i.e., I don’t remember which ones they give a low ranking to that I disagree with)

  7. Avatar
    seahawk41  January 13, 2019

    I just finished watching “The Bible Hunters” on the Smithsonian channel. It covers the search for early Christian texts from the late 1700s to today. It is well done, and from what I know, accurate. Here is the link: https://watch.smithsonianchannel.com/video/series/bible-hunters/30426. I don’t know whether you can watch it without a subscription. A good deal of this is stuff I knew, from the blog and stuff I’ve read. But I learned a few things I didn’t already know from watching this.

  8. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 13, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:

    Do you favor the NRSV that reads (and if I recall correctly I think I saw it in one of your books that quotes it this way):Gal. 1:16 “to reveal his Son to me” instead of “in me.” Do you agree that “to me” makes more sense because Paul is convinced the appearance of the resurrected Jesus was bodily, objective, and that he really saw him? “In me” just seems internal (I know that’s what you think it was) but of course Paul thinks it was external and real. So would you go with “to me”?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      I think the word might have both resonances. Literally it’s “in” — which means it was a revelatory experience; but God is that actor so it is also “to”

    • Robert
      Robert  January 14, 2019

      I think Gal 1,16 is perhaps best understood as a dative of means or instrumentality. Here Paul is describing not so much his personal inner religious experience as his divinely ordained role:

      Ὅτε δὲ εὐδόκησεν [ὁ θεὸς] ὁ ἀφορίσας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου καὶ καλέσας διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἀποκαλύψαι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐμοί, ἵνα εὐαγγελίζωμαι αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν …

      But when the one who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son by me so that I could preach the good tidings about him among the Gentiles …

  9. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 14, 2019

    Do you think Jesus expected his followers to “sell all [their] possessions and give the money to the poor”?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 14, 2019

      I think that’s certainly what he expected of his closest followers, and that he saw that as the way of perfection. It’s not clear if this was a complete requisite for salvation for him; I think not.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  January 14, 2019

        If Jesus didn’t think that selling all of one’s possessions and giving the money to the poor is a prerequisite to acquiring eternal life, why did he tell the “rich, young ruler” to do this (Matt. 19:16f, Mark 10:17f, Luke 18:18f)? When the (young) man is saddened because he was told to do this, Jesus makes his famous camel-through-the-eye-of-the-needle statement, which suggests that the “ruler” *wouldn’t* enter the kingdom of God. And the man seems to be a random individual who approached Jesus–with no indication that he was one of Jesus’ close followers.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2019

          The striking thing is that he doesn’t tell *everyone* to do it. This man asked, and Jesus gave him specific instructions. But you’ll notice in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus never tells everyone who wants to find the kingdom to sell all their possessions. As with most teachers in antiquity, the “problem of wealth” was connected only with the very rich — not with the 90% of the rest of the human race, most of whom was either struggling to get by or actually destitute.

          • Avatar
            JohnKesler  January 17, 2019

            What about Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-20 and Luke 12:33-34? Are they instructions for anyone who wants to follow Jesus?

            Matthew 6:19-20
            19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

            Luke 12:33-34
            33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 18, 2019

            Yes, indeed. But here he doesn’t tell people to sell *everything*.

  10. Avatar
    Fanex  January 14, 2019

    How different is classic greek ,Xenophon,Platon from the NT greek and also from modern greek ?
    Ex.if you know ancient greek you could understand modern greek from actual Athens or Salonic ?
    When it was introduce for the first time punctuation ? I know from ruins in my country that even latin doesnt have punctuation but a whole of abreviation that increase difficulty to translate inscription.
    Thank you .

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2019

      The standard “classical” Greek of, say, Plato and other 4th – 5th century BC authos is “Attic” (connected with “Athens”). The Greek of the New Testament is “Koine” (two syllables: the “e” rhymes with “ate”; the word means “common”). Anyone who learns Attic today will be able to read Koine; but it would be difficult (and is difficult) for those who know only Koine to read Attic. It’s more complex. Homeric Greek (of the Iliad and Odyssey) is older still, and yet more difficult. Modern Greeks can make *basic* sense of a good deal of ancient Greek, but it’s very different in many, many ways. Those who know ancient Greek are not able, just on that basis, to read or understand spoken modern Greek.

      • Avatar
        hankgillette  January 18, 2019

        It sounds as though Greek has still changed less than Latin. Imagine Pilate trying to understand Spanish, French, or Romanian (he might have better luck with Italian).

  11. Avatar
    Matt2239  January 14, 2019

    Is the working structure of the committee based on or inspired by some other manuscript review process, or is it a sui generis form of research and scholarship?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2019

      I’m not sure what you mean by manuscript review process. Do you mean was the work “peer-reviewed”? Since it was a committee of the premier textual scholars in the world, their internal discussions constituted a kind of peer review process.

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  January 16, 2019

        I have no doubt that if you say they’re the best then they’re the best, but even then I don’t think the committee members can peer review the work of the committee. What I was asking about though was the process they would use for reaching consensus or not on what the manuscript originally said. Is it a standard process that’s used for ancient manuscripts, or is it a unique process that they’re developing because none already exists? Are there enough biblical and non-biblical ancient manuscripts in existence that a standard process could exist?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 17, 2019

          No, the book was not peer reviewed. There are absolutely criteria and protocols for making such decisions — they are widely discussed and debated and refined by experts (and written about in all the standared books). But at the end of the day, they involve the weighing of evidence, and different people, in individual cases of variation, will weigh the evidence differently. The committee decided based on majority opinion (among the committee members). A volume was written by Metzger to explain their decisions and to note counterarguments when they were made, to help scholars then be better prepared to decide for themselves.

  12. galah
    galah  January 14, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, since the Gospel’s used the oral tradition as source, has there been any attempts to identify the parts of the original text that are believed to have begun orally? Or, is this impossible? Is there any way to know for certain what wasn’t invented and written down later?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2019

      Yes, this is a topic of sustained attention among scholars. It’s the topic of my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  13. galah
    galah  January 15, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, I hope this question doesn’t irritate you. I don’t mean it with disrespect. But, do other scholars support your study of memory and distorted memory? Essentially, we’re horrible at remembering the past. In such case, we can’t be certain that anything in writing was remotely similar to the oral tradition that began 40 years earlier.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2019

      I’m not sure which view you mean. Everything I know about memory and distorted memory I’ve learned from reading experts in the field — I haven’t come up with any of it myself. Before I published it I gave my book on memory to the chair of the department of Psychology at Harvard, the world’s expert on distorted memory, Daniel Schachter, who graciously read it for me and told me that he thought I got it all right. So I think my views are pretty mainstream.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  January 31, 2019

        I could understand mis-remembering many things, however I think if the resurrected Jesus appeared to me, that might be a red-letter day.

  14. Avatar
    FJMFerreira  January 17, 2019

    When you and other authors refer to Bible passages, I like to go and read them myself. Is there a Bible English translation that you recommend? Is a “Study Bible” a good option?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      I recommend the New Revised Standard Version, which I especially like in an annotated edition such as the HarperCollins Study Bible.

  15. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 30, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree?

    That via Textual Criticism we can more firmly establish what the writers of the New Testament originally wrote, than Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Josephus?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 1, 2019

      Well, it’s complicated. We certainly have far, far more manuscripts of the NT than the others, and much earlier manuscripts. But the scribes who copied the others had almost no reason for wanting to change them, in almost every instance/passage. That wasn’t true of the NT, copied by Christians with every reason for wanting to make sure the wording was true to the truth….

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  February 1, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        So if I read you correctly, are you making a positive comment here about the veracity of the documents of the New Testament; that the scribes would have even more of a reason to get it right and stay true i.e. to what Paul wrote?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 3, 2019

          No, the opposite. Scribes were more likely to change texts they had a personal investment in.

  16. Avatar
    JohnKesler  February 10, 2019

    “Yes, indeed. But he doesn’t tell people to sell *everything*. “

    But Jesus does tell people to “give up all [their] possessions” in Luke 14:33. Is this verse not probative that one must give up everything to follow Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 11, 2019

      It certainly seems to be Luke’s view. Striking that the verse is not in the other Gospels. It’s often taken not to go back to Jesus, but to Luke.

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