Abstract of paper to be presented in the unit New Testament Textual Criticism of SBL congress in Philadelphia, November 2005.

by P.J. Williams

A re-evaluation of the role of the early versions in New Testament textual criticism

Although Metzger tells us that it is hard to overestimate the importance of the early versions, recent scholarship shows that such an overestimation has frequently occurred in their use as witnesses to the Greek original. Due to the discovery of early Greek papyri and to the recognition that some versional variants are merely translational, the role played by the versions within the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (27th edition) is considerably smaller than the role they played in editions of the 19th century. However, versions are still being overconfidently assigned as support to variant Greek readings. Illustration of this will be given by considering the citation of Coptic, Latin and Syriac within the Nestle-Aland edition, showing high error rates, including a rate of 28% in the citation of the Peshitta in Romans. It may be estimated that the number of versional citations in such a manual edition needs to shrink by between one fifth and one quarter if overconfident citation is to be avoided. Re-evaluation of the versions also necessitates re-evaluation of the estimations of Greek manuscripts made upon assumptions of the level of versional support they have.

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