Nov 24, 2015

Book Review: A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Philip Wesley Comfort, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015).

Those who preach, teach, or study the Bible seriously will at some point encounter issues related to variant readings in the text and whether they do so knowledgeably or not, will practice a form of text criticism. So having reliable and helpful resources is invaluable. Philip Wesley Comfort’s  A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament attempts to be such a resource.

The commentary proper is broken down into seven chapters covering the Synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, Acts, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and Revelation. It is important to know that Comfort’s general approach is to give greater weight to external rather than internal evidence, and to give great preference to the early manuscripts, so in most cases to the papyri (p. 31). So Comfort states, “In this volume, manuscript evidence is given priority of place inasmuch as the readings of the earliest manuscripts are always followed” (p. 31). This is important because Comfort states that he practices “reasoned eclecticism” (p. 31) but his approach differs from others who also claim to practice “reasoned eclecticism”

By way of evaluation, there are several admirable features of the book. First, it contains a good introduction to manuscripts, texts, and nomina sacra (chapter one). I especially enjoyed the discussion on nomina sacra. Second, I also believe that the annotated discussion of manuscripts is helpful (chapter 2). Third, on a more practical level, the volume is deliberately sized to match the UBS and NA28 Greek New Testaments. Finally, the volume is fairly reasonably priced at $29.99.

Now for what I don't like. First, the repetitive parenthetical definition of nomen sacrum as sacred name. The parenthetical definition does not appear every time but many, many times and it got to be annoying. Second, this work curiously refers to the somewhat outdated BAGD instead of BDAG and NA 27 and UBS 3 and 4 instead of NA 28 and UBS 5 respectively. Similarly, some of the volumes referenced in the bibliography are not current. For example, the first rather than the second edition of Kurt and Barbara Aland's The Text of the New Testament is listed.

Those who have cut their teeth like me on Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament may wonder whether Comfort’s volume replaces, supplements, or is redundant to Metzger. I think it is is best utilized as a supplementary text. Its approach is different from Metzger and also tends to highlight the nomina sacra more but I think as a whole that I prefer Metzger's discussions. Nonetheless, Comfort's volume can serve as a handy counterpoint to Metzger.    

Thanks to Kregel for providing the free copy used in this unbiased review.

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