A NEWLY released edition of the New Testament in Greek is believed to be the most accurate ever published, after ten years of work by biblical scholars to correct errors made by scribes thousands of years ago.
Drawing on the oldest available manuscripts, scholars studied the minor errors made by scribes in order to come to informed conclusions about what the text should have said.
The editor of the edition, Dr Dirk Jongkind, who is vice-principal of the biblical research institute Tyndale House, which has brought out the new edition, has led the Greek New Testament project for a decade, to achieve a version that reflects the latest thinking on “scribal habits”.
“When we copy a text, we are always bound to make small mistakes, and the New Testament is no exception,” he said. “The great thing is that now we have so much evidence at our fingertips we can study the types of errors the New Testament scribes made, and come to more informed conclusions about what the text being copied would have said.
“Our ten-year study of the most important manuscripts shows that, while errors are part and parcel of the copying process, there is no evidence whatsoever of systematic revision of the text. So, while a scribe might accidentally change ‘Jesus Christ’ to ‘Christ Jesus’, we don’t encounter textual differences between the manuscripts that materially change the meaning.”
Dr Jongkind was previously curator of the Codex Sinaiticus documents held by the British Library: one of the earliest copies of the complete New Testament in Greek, which dates back to the fourth century. His Ph.D. focused on the textual habits of the scribes who produced the manuscript.
The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek (a dialect), in the first century, but was translated into Latin.
Scholars went back to the earliest manuscripts for this edition, setting aside the standardised spelling, paragraph marks, and punctuation in other editions. Since 1975, a text published by the German Bible Society had become the accepted standard text, but there have been many discoveries of papyri and advances in study since, which had not led to an updated version until now.
The Greek New Testament published this month is the first printed version to take all its paragraph marks from early manuscripts. This led to some surprising changes, the associate editor and Principal of Tyndale House, Dr Peter Williams, said, including a change to the punctuation of Jesus’s Parable of the Sower in Mark 4.3. The new edition puts a paragraph after the first word of Jesus’s speech: “Listen”.
“This paragraph division makes for a much more engaging opening. No longer do Jesus’s instructions to listen and look run together in a blend of the aural and visual. Rather, the text provides us first with Jesus’s address to his hearers: ‘Listen up’.
“Now they’re listening, he begins his story: ‘Look. Use the eye of your imagination and see the sower is going out and sowing.’”
The new edition in Greek may now pave the way for more accurate English translations, translators have suggested.