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The NA28 text marks a departure from the traditional methodology of textual criticism. As described by Jeff Kloha in the Concordia Theology Journal,

Previous generations learned to classify manuscripts based on “text-types,” such as “Alexandrian,” “Western,” and “Caesarean.” However, more comprehensive comparison of all readings in all manuscripts, now made possible by computer analysis, shows that these classic divisions (first identified in the early eighteenth century, before the discovery of any papyrus manuscripts) are not meaningful, especially in the period of the greatest variation, the second and third centuries. The method now employed has been labeled the “Coherence-Based Genealogical Method.” Using comprehensive computer databases, the “coherence” of witnesses in their relationships to each other is able to be discerned over an entire book or corpus, so that the researcher can determine rather quickly if decisions made about the “initial text” could have produced the resultant stemma of manuscripts. It is important to note that the databases and software do not determine the “initial text” readings; the researcher, using any method (Reasoned Eclecticism; Thoroughgoing Eclecticism; even Majority Text Theory) determines the “initial text” reading in each place. The software then compiles a stemma based on all those decisions to determine if an accurate stemma results. Individual textual decisions can then be altered, the program run again, and refinements to the text made until a “coherent” stemma of witnesses is produced. This is certainly very different from the “Local Text-Type” theory that most pastors learned in Greek class, a method which, it must be said, fell out of disuse decades ago. Hence the changes to the text....

[The NA28] reflects a shift in assumptions about what the evidence allows one to reconstruct. Where previous generations, emboldened by a confidence in science which was possible only in the Enlightenment, claimed to be able to reproduce the “New Testament in the Original Greek,” late twentieth century scholars have known that extant evidence reaches only back to the second century, and that for only a scattering of passages. There may be nearly 150 years between the original writing/delivery of a New Testament text and the now-preserved manuscripts. Given the strong dependence on a genealogical method, this edition claims only to to reconstruct the “Ausgangstext,” or the “Initial Text,” defined as follows:

“The initial text is the form of a text that stands at the beginning of a textual   
tradition. The constructed text of an edition represents the hypothetical     
reconstruction of the initial text.” ([Editio Critica Maior] 2 Peter, 23)

This edition helpfully acknowledges that reproducing an “autograph” of any New Testament writing is an impossible task, given available evidence. This also leads to a perhaps surprising move by the editors: the removal of any reference to a conjecture in the apparatus. Since the editors claim to reconstruct only the hypothetical text that stands at the head of the manuscript tradition (and not the “autograph”), conjectures are not part of their project. So, for example, the conjecture that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is a post-Pauline interpolation has been deleted from the apparatus.

Note that bias is still involved in this methodology since the initial text is unknown. Are there any scholars who have identified flaws with the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method? With the exception of the Textus Receptus, what other scholarly manuscript compilations are available aside from the Nestle-Aland text and UBS (which seems to be following the same path as the NA28)?

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This is a good intro by Gerd Mink, and if you have the time nothing quite beats working through the presentation here. For any complicated questions, you need to refer to: Mink, G. (2004). "Problems of a highly contaminated tradition: the New Testament – Stemmata of variants as a source of a genealogy for witnesses," in Studies in Stemmatology II, ed. P. van Reenen et al. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Jo –  ed. Jan 7 at 15:00
Thanks for the input! I'll have to look up that article/book. –  maj nem ɪz dæn Jan 7 at 21:27
Thanks for doing the conversion :-) –  ed. Jan 8 at 17:56

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) has a lot of scientific backing but is not without critique. The method assumes an initial stemma and essentially just applies least-sum-of-squares statistics to find the linear regression line (the stemma that fits best). I suspect that it will actually fall in line with existing local text types (or be mis-interpreted in this way). The reality is that CBGM is a statistical metric, it is not based on the old heuristic approach to textual criticism. The weakness is that it has only been applied to the Catholic epistles and has not been tested on any other texts. The model might only work in a limited application. The method is thus largely unproven from a scientific standpoint. Not to mention, a lot of the scientific explanation of the method is still only available in German.

Concerning other manuscripts, have you considered SBLGNT? It compares multiple critical texts and their apparatus.

A great source is The Textual History of the Greek New Testament edited by Klaus Watchel and Michael W. Holmes. In the essay by Gerd Mink it explains CBGM and its use by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) to produce the Editio Critica Major (ECM).

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Hello theosis! Thanks for answering! I have awarded you a bounty (50 points) plus voted for your response. I'd love to hear any additional sources you may have for explaining CBGM, if you add some I will also mark this as the accepted answer. I edited a couple spelling errors and added a link to the SBLGNT to help other users find it, I hope you don't mind (you can always change it back if you'd like). Thanks again, this is a great answer! –  maj nem ɪz dæn Jan 18 '13 at 0:31
Hey no problem. I learned everything by using Google Translate on their main page (in German) and just general inference of their methodology. I am on my phone so it is not easy to add all the links and such. –  user1985 Jan 18 '13 at 0:38
+1, this is very useful and just the kind of approach we need on the site: good research and clear communication. Do you mean you can only ever access the site from your phone or just right now? –  Jack Douglas Jan 18 '13 at 8:24
@theosis I did actually find an English version of the INTF site as well as a lot of their material in English. I would recommend following the link in the post which will take you to it (I linked the text in your response). Thanks again –  maj nem ɪz dæn Jan 18 '13 at 18:58

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