Want to Understand the Transmission of the NT Text? Here is a Great New Resource

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

November 11, 2015

Whenever I teach textual criticism to my seminary students, I usually get two very different responses.  For some students, their eyes glaze over and they tune out as soon as they hear the word “paleography” for the first time.

For others, they find themselves fascinated by how texts were transmitted and copied in the ancient world.  And they are excited by the  fact that we can go to museums and see actual NT manuscripts–the earliest artifacts of Christianity. This archaeological component to textual criticism makes it a very tangible enterprise.

One thing that really helps teach students about this complex subject is finding the right text book.  But, admittedly, this has been a challenge over the years.  While I have great respect for Metzger’s original edition of The Text of the New Testament, it is written at a scholarly level that creates a challenge for most first-year seminary students. And the new Metzger-Ehrman edition has additional sections that I am not convinced are an improvement over the original.

On the other end of the spectrum is probably Greenlee’s Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism.  This volume is much more introductory and certainly accessible to first-year seminary students.  However, its brevity creates the opposite problem–many issues are not covered at all, or at the level of detail needed.

This conundrum has, in my opinion, been largely solved by the new book by Stan Porter and Andrew Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 2015).  I received an advance review copy many months ago, but today I received the final version in the mail.

Porter and Pitts aim for (and, I think, hit) the proverbial middle ground between Metzger and Greenlee, thus providing an excellent introduction to seminary students with the appropriate level of detail.  It is the essential third bowl of porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears!

I also enjoyed this volume because it includes a section on the canon of the New Testament–something most textual criticism volumes do not address.  This provides students with a helpful introduction to how the New Testament was formed in the first place.

Here are the endorsements on the back cover, including my own:

Craig S. Keener
— Asbury Theological Seminary
“This very readable textbook provides a helpful and balanced introduction to text criticism aimed at just the right level for beginning students. It is clear, introduces multiple views, gives good reasons for the approaches it favors, and — an unexpected bonus — offers in two relevant chapters useful, concise introductions to canon formation and translation theory.”

Michael J. Kruger

— Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
“Because of the complexity of the field of textual criticism, most introductions are either too detailed or too basic. This exceptional volume by Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts provides a welcome balance between these two extremes, introducing students to all the critical issues without overloading them with unnecessary detail. It also covers topics that most introductions overlook, such as the development of the New Testament canon and modern English translations. For anyone looking for a balanced, thorough, and yet readable introduction to textual criticism, this is it.”

J. K. Elliott

— University of Leeds
“Newcomers to the Greek New Testament will find this guide a useful introduction explaining how the establishing of the text is undertaken. It also gives insight into the treasures awaiting a perceptive user concerning textual variants found in the manuscript tradition.”

Craig A. Evans

— Acadia Divinity College
“This is no ordinary introduction to textual criticism. In addition to offering explanations of the criteria and the critical apparatus, Porter and Pitts explain in very practical ways what the discipline tries to do and the thinking that lies behind it. As a bonus readers are treated to up-to-date discussion of the formation of the canon of Scripture, the nature of the materials used in the production of ancient books, and a history of the English Bible and the theories of translation on which translations are based. The book is rich with examples and insights.”

David Alan Black

— Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is an excellent treatise on a vitally important subject. Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts were seeking to produce a textbook that falls midway between Bruce Metzger’s Text of the New Testament and my own New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, and they have succeeded brilliantly. . . . Their careful research deepens our understanding of the role of textual criticism in exegesis, and I am confident that this book of theirs will be widely used both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Eckhard Schnabel

— Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
“Porter and Pitts have admirably achieved what they set out to do — provide a succinct introduction to the manuscript tradition of the Greek New Testament for first- and second-year students of Koine Greek. . . . This book is ideal both for students in classrooms and for general readers who seek reliable information about the origins and the text of the New Testament.”

Thomas J. Kraus

— University of Zurich
“In this book Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts take interested students by the hand and introduce them to the essentials of New Testament textual criticism. . . . They provide welcome, concise assessments of external and internal evidence for judging textual variants. . . . A very useful tool for instructing students in New Testament textual criticism.”