Book Thoughts #3: „An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge” by Dirk Jongkind

I had read Dirk Jongkind’s book in June last year and intended to share my thoughts soon afterwards. But many things have occupied me since then that distracted me from updating this blog. Now, finally, I was able to catch up with things. I suppose better late than never.

An Introduction to the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge is a companion to the edition of the Greek New Testament that was produced in 2017 under the oversight of Dirk Jongkind and Peter Williams. However, it is not just a small book explaining the particular methodology and choices that lie behind this edition. Rather, it is sort of „level-0” introduction to the New Testament textual criticism. Too brief to serve as a textbook for a seminary-level course, but a very handy primer that accessibly explains why there are different editions of the Greek New Testament and how are they made.

In the first chapter (Your Greek New Testament and the Manuscripts), Dirk Jongkind explains why we even need an edition. He introduces the reader to how the text of the New Testament was first transmitted in manuscripts and how editors, preparing the printed version, need to decide between different wordings of particular manuscripts. One of the advantages of this chapter is that it touches on questions that a believer approaching these issues may have: can we trust Scripture if there are variants between manuscripts? Do these varients constitute a problem for the doctrine of inspiration? I appreciate especially Jongkind’s observation that we should start with what God has done and not with what we think He ought to have done. We know the exact wording of Scripture down to very fine details, but we do not possess the definite answers regarding all the variation points between manuscripts. Does it mean that the vast majority of the text that was preserved is somehow deficient in terms of inspiration? Not at all!  

The second chapter (Practicalities) deals with how to use The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House. While the chapter is designed specifically to work with this Greek New Testament edition, its contents would likely be helpful for the reader who is examining any critical edition for the first time. Dirk Jongkind also explains some of the special features of Tyndale House’ edition (order of books, paragraph divisions, spelling).

The third chapter (Manuscripts) gives a very brief overview of the various types of New Testament manuscripts. It explains how they are cited in the Tyndale House Greek New Testament and in short paragraphs describes several of the most important witnesses to the text of the New Testament.

The fourth chapter (How Decisions Are Made) gets to the most intriguing question for someone newly exposed to the idea of differences between New Testament manuscripts: how do we decide which one is right? How do we move from differing manuscripts to the one text that we are going to print? I appreciate that this book stresses the importance of knowing the particular manuscript and typical behaviours of scribes well (not surprising, given the work which Dirk Jongkind has done in this field). Jongkind explains also how some variants have arisen and gives an overview of the arguments that have been made for keeping or rejecting four prominent variants (the longer ending of Mark, the pericope adulterae, Luke 22:43-44 and 23:34a).

Chapters five and six explain why the editors of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament did not decide to print the so-called textus receptus or the majority text but rather made an eclectic edition.1 The eighth chapter (Biblical Theology and the Transmission of the Text) gives us what I think is the most unique and helpful feature of this introduction – theological reflection on the transmission of Scriptural text. I appreciate, again, that Dirk Jongkind stresses that while God did not give us exhaustive knowledge of the text, He has given us sufficient knowledge of the text. He does not miraculously grant that we arrive at the same interpretation of the text and neither does He prevent any scribal errors in the process of transmission. He did, nevertheless, preserve the text throughout the process of copying in a way that gives us sufficient access to His word.

It seems to me that this book would be very helpful for anyone who is for the first time confronted with the idea that the text of the New Testament was preserved through centuries of copying by hand and in manuscripts that differ from each other. It does introduce clearly, albeit succinctly, major concepts associated with the study of the text of the New Testament. But it does so with sensitivity to the questions that a believer may have. One particularly precious feature of this small book is that it includes theological reflection alongside more technical explanations. I can imagine that this small book would be good supplementary material during an introductory course on the text of the New Testament alongside something like Metzger.

Dirk Jongkind. An Introduction to the Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2019.

  1. Textus receptus (Latin received text) is a type of the New Testament text that derives from the first printed edition prepared by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Early modern translations (e.g. King James Version) were based on editions of the Greek New Testament belonging to this tradition. Majority text is the text-type found in majority of extant Greek manuscripts. It is also called Byzantine text-type because it was the text-type used in the Byzantine Empire. Since textus receptus was prepared on the basis of several Byzantine manuscripts it belongs to this text-type but it does differ from the most common form of the Byzantine text. Modern editions, such as Nestle-Aland, SBL Greek New Testament or Tyndale House Greek New Testament, are eclectic, that is, they take into account the testimony of various manuscripts and weight their readings against each other.

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