4 Stars Out Of 5
Excellent Tool for Text-Critical Work
February 12, 2016
Ill readily admit that textual criticism of the NT is an area of study I prefer not to travel (during my comps I dreaded it more than the rest!). I say this not because I think the practice is unimportant, but because I dont particularly enjoy the actual work itself. Ill also be the first to champion, however, the importance of textual criticism. After all, before we can interpret the text, we must know what comprises the text, and it is the brave textual critics who saunter down this troublesome path for this most noble cause. So, as with many other disciplines that are entangled in the study of the NT, I appreciate the fruits of others laborious efforts to produce works in areas in which I am adequately skilled to navigate, Comforts work here a prime example.
I would think any student of the NT who has progressed beyond an introductory course on matters related to the NT have used with great benefit Bruce Metzgers A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Comforts work could possibly be of equal value to those seeking to wrangle and tame the multitude of textual variants that decorate the many manuscripts behind our NT. I do not wish, however, to suggest that Comforts work is the same as Metzgersnot at allbut that Comfort has provided for students and scholars a work that focuses on a smaller segment of the manuscript population, i.e., the papyri, which as Comfort states are among the most important manuscripts because they get us closer to the autographs (20).
This volume breaks down into essentially three sections: (1) Introduction to the manuscripts, text, and nomina sacra, (2) an annotated list of all the most important manuscripts of the NT, and (3) commentary on the text, which is divided along traditional lines (e.g., Gospels, Acts, Pauline letters, etc.). The first section orients the reader to the various papyrus collections, e.g., Oxyrhynchus, Bodmer, et al, and to the general process of evaluating manuscripts to determine what weight they might lend to particular readings. Comfort thankfully condenses this information into a few pages and devotes the majority of this opening section to the discussion of the nomina sacra (the abbreviation of a divine name or titlehereafter referred to as n. s.) This was one question that leapt out at me upon perusing the front matterwhy the discussion of the n. s.? Comfort believes that the ubiquity of the n. s. merits attention and dedicates a significant number of pages discussing its various forms, potential provenances, and ultimately the significance (3142, 41943) This discussion is, from what I can recall, largely absent from most intro texts to TC, so Comforts inclusion of it in this volume will likely prove helpful for some. Section two, the manuscript list, is also quite helpful for those wishing to get an idea of a particular manuscripts origin, age, textual affinities, etc. Comfort lists the earliest manuscriptsthe papyriwhich date to pre-300.
The real meat of this volume, not surprisingly, is section twothe commentary proper. Here Comfort discusses what he thinks is the original wording for particular verses, i.e., those for which there are variants in the papyri. In general, Comfort is fairly conservative in his handling of variants (if the designator conservative is even helpful), but does opt for readings occasionally that deviate from the majority. This section (and book) is most useful (obviously) when read in concert with work one may be doing on a particular variant rather than categorizing Comforts approach as more or less conservativeI only do so to be loosely descriptive. For some of the more prickly TC problems in the NT, Comfort provides decent discussion, such as the question of the ending of Marks Gospel (197206) and the ending of Romans (31216). For other issues, such as Johns Pericope Adulterae (John 7:538:11; pgs. 25859), the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:78; pg. 39697), Eph 1:1 (340), and the number of the beast in Rev 13:18 (41011) all receive decent discussion. For a volume that seeks to address as many variants as it does, the length of comment for these issues is commendable.
In sum, Comfort has produced an immensely useful and handy guide to aid readers of the NT. While Comforts volume certainly will not supplant Metzgers (not that such is even the aim), but will serve as a welcome companion to a work that is itself perhaps the go-to guide for variant commentary.