A Children’s Edition Greek New Testament? A Review of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT)

In How to Read a Book Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren state that when evaluating a book, the reviewer must understand the aims of the books author(s). Did the author(s) accomplish what they set out to do? serves as the point of departure. The same criterion might hold true for evaluating the work of editors.

What do Peter Williams and Dirk Jongkind set out to do in The Tyndale House Greek New Testament? Their goal is to employ conservative, minimalistic editorial practices to produce a readable, children’s version of the Greek text. Yes, a children’s version, quips Peter Williams.

That statement caught my attention too. In what follows I will briefly survey the rationale Williams and Jongkind employ, observe some of the initial results of the publication of the THGNT and with childlike faith make a few predictions about what is to come. Dan Wallace, Todd Scacewater, Peter Gurry and others have written thorough reviews before the release. My brief thoughts here are based upon presentations by Williams and Jongkind at Crossway’s official release of the THGNT on Wednesday, Nov 15 and papers each read on Thursday, Nov 16 at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

A Children’s Greek New Testament

I am playing a bit on Williams’ hyperbole but his statement frames one of the initial, albeit ironic coming from a scholarly institution like Tyndale House, goals. Willaims and Jongkind want the THGNT to be read for pleasure, enjoyed no less than a bookish child grabs his favorite volume whenever the occasion would allow (think the boy C. S. Lewis at his childhood home, Little Lea). What means have the editors employed to accomplish this end? This may be the wrong question to ask. Better, What do the editors remove or restrict of elements standard in a critical edition of the Greek New Testament (cf. NA28) in order to facilitate a childlike reading experience? They:

  1. Remove all symbols from the body of the text. There are no sigla indicating when witnesses disagree in some way with the wording adopted in the THGNT; no font changes marking Old Testament citations; no cross-reference listings.
  2. Provide a limited critical apparatus (and corresponding list of witnesses provided in the Introduction). For instance, pages 386-87(facing) listing 2 Cor 5:4-7:3, have no critical apparatus. This is indeed remarkable. NA28 averages more than 10 lines of critical apparatus per page, and no page lacks an apparatus listing. Williams and Jongkind argue that freeing the wording from excessive text critical clutter facilitates a more pleasurable reading experience, implicitly fostering a love for the Greek New Testament scriptures. And, they offer, a basic Appendix of witnesses (with no gothic letters) proves more accessible for readers.
  3. Following the table of contents, begin the book with the Gospel of Matthew and place the Introduction at the end. Williams and Jongkind suggest that a lengthy, symbol laden Introduction intimidates some readers and impedes the free, enthusiastic experience they wish to supply.

Conservative, Minimalistic Editorial Practices

Williams and Jongkind use as their base text Samuel Prideaux Tregelles’s 1872 edition of the Greek New Testament. They note that Tregelles’s text influenced Westcott and Hort’s influential 1881 critical text and thus the Nestle-Aland tradition of texts (505). Tregelles’s text provides an apt basis for two other reasons: it is based on documents noted for their antiquity, and as such provides a basis for comparison with papyri witnesses discovered after to 1872. So what text critical editorial practices do Williams and Jongkind employ to produce a children’s Greek New Testament? It turns out, some highly sophisticated and restrained steps. Here I survey just a few that the editors note in their launch and ETS presentations (see further the Introduction of the THGNT and their blog [http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/thgnt_blog/]). The editors:

  1. Require a reading to be attested by two or more Biblical witnesses dating to the fifth century or earlier. This step prioritizes majuscules like Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus—along with many papyri—and eliminates the citation of church fathers or the versions of the Biblical text in other languages. Fewer than ten minuscules are cited in the list of witnesses.
  2. Employ the textual features of these witnesses in both the wording and presentation of the text in the THGNT. This is where Williams and Jongkind’s work is not child’s play. Upon looking at the Table of Contents the reader will note that the order of the Epistles does not match the order followed in most English or Greek texts. Following the order of many ancient witnesses, the editors place the Catholic Epistles immediately after Acts, followed by the traditional Pauline Epistles, Hebrews and Revelation. Combing the witnesses cited, the editors have placed paragraph divisions where two or more of their source texts agree. What will capture the reader’s eye immediately is the way paragraphs have reverse indentation (ekthesis) such that the first line is moved left and the following lines of the paragraph appear indented (though they are flush with normal margins). Much more could be said about where these breaks occur and how these will affect the reading (and exegesis and preaching) of the New Testament. Among the more noteworthy are new paragraphs beginning at John 1:18 (not 1:19), Rom 3:19 (not 3:21), Gal 5:2 (not 5:1). The editors note also that in many places in 1 Peter breaks are often consistent with an elited εἰμί. But the editors are not content to display just the macro features of the witnesses. By identifying where (especially Vaticanus) distinguishes the long ει from ι, the THGNT at times preserves ει where ι might be expected (and represent the lexical form of the word). Though this is not done consistently throughout the books, γίνομαι, for example, as γείνομαι captures the readers eye.
  3. Account for (unconscious) scribal habits to explain variants. Over the last several decades, scribal habits have been looked upon pejoratively, the editors argue, such that scribes are often thought to be theologically motivated in adjusting the text this way or that. But Williams and Jongkind bring a grown-up and mature perspective to their editorial work, identifying scribal habits in the pre-sixth century witnesses and allowing these an opportunity to explain the variants as well. For instance, I asked Jongkind the rationale for including φόνοι (murder) in Paul’s list of fleshly acts in Gal 5:21. This is a peculiar choice on the part of the editors because its inclusion makes it a longer reading (when generally a shorter is preferred) and goes against the united witness of three esteemed pre-sixth century witnesses, P46, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. Jongkind noted that the scribal habit in lists differs from other sections of text: in lists, scribes would likely omit rather than add, making the addition the more difficult reading—especially since φόνοι in Gal 5:21 follows the similarly pronounced φθόνοι (envy).

Millions of Readers: Prospects by Faith

Williams states that he hopes the THGNT will provide such a pleasurable reading experience that in the years to come a reformation of reading the Greek New Testament will ensue. Crossway fulfills their role, producing a beautiful, durable book that provides an enjoyable reading experience. It is noteworthy that Crossway has produced the THGNT in such a way that not one place does a word split on two lines and require a hyphen(!). Likewise, the text of the THGNT is placed online free of charge and can thus be used globally for not only reading but a basis of Bible translation.

The editors note that at present they are aware of a few errors in the apparatus of the THGNT, and I predict that further evaluation will lead to the production of what might be called the THGNT2 within the next five to ten years. I further predict that the forthcoming commentary on textual decisions will be a landmark event, providing new windows for evaluating especially the paragraph marking features of the ancient witnesses and the scribal habits therein. Because the THGNT does not take into account the use of the scriptures by the Church Fathers or the versions—and limits its textual base to pre-sixth century texts—it will not soon replace the Nestle-Aland tradition as the standard critical edition. But at the moment that is not the intent of the editors. Over time, however, with the forthcoming commentary and revisions, I predict it will doubtless provide scholars a base for pursuing the original wordings of the New Testament and become a necessary tool for both beginning and advanced students of the Greek text. The THGNT will quickly move from the children’s section and begin to traverse the entire bookstore.