Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2015. 443 pp. Hb. $29.99. Link to Kregel
Philip Comfort is well known for his many publications on New Testament textual criticism and especially for his work with papyri. His latest contribution is a running commentary on the text of the New Testament with a special emphasis on evidence drawn from the papyri. While it is not required that this commentary should be used along with Comfort’s early work The Complete Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts (with David Barrett, Baker, 1999) or his revision and expansion in The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Tyndale, 2001).
This new commentary is similar to Bruce Metzger’s companion volume to the United Bible Society Greek New Testament. Metzger only commented on the variants as they appear in the UBS textual apparatus by giving a brief report of the reasoning behind the committee’s decision. Occasionally there is a dissenting opinion from one of the editors of the UBS. Metzger’s goal is to explain why a particular reading is more likely than another. There are two editions of Metzger’s Textual commentary, the first comments on the variants in the third edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, the second is keyed to the fourth UBS Greek Bible. Since there are many variants no longer listed in the fourth edition, it is necessary to have both volumes available.
Comfort offers a 23-page introduction to the manuscripts of the New Testament. As expected, his main interest is the papyri, especially several examples he considered to represent the original reading of the New Testament. Although he briefly discusses Epp’s canons of internal textual criticism, Comfort gives priority to manuscript evidence (31). In addition to prioritizing the papyri, Comfort is one of the few text critics to give the nomina sacra, abbreviations of sacred words in the manuscripts. Words such as Lord, Jesus, Christ, and God are regular written as a shortened form of the word with a line over the letters to indicate an abbreviation. A significant section of the introductory chapter and an appendix are devoted to the importance of these sacred words.
The second introductory chapter is an 83-page annotated list of manuscripts of the New Testament. Entries include the designation of the manuscript, original publication (editio princeps) and current location. Comfort then suggests a date for the manuscript along with a brief explanation of this date where necessary. Finally, Comfort offers an assessment of the manuscript for textual criticism. For p2, he states the Greek-Coptic manuscript is too small to assess textual affinities,” for others he concludes they contain “fairly reliable texts” (p70, for example). Comfort includes 127 papyri listed in the UBS/NA editions as well as four others not assigned an official number (Egerton Gospel, for example). He offers similar annotations for significant Uncial manuscripts (Sinaticus, Vaticanus, etc) and a few minuscules (usually families). He offers short introductions to versions (translations) and a simple list of key church fathers. Except for the papyri, this is not a complete list and Comfort suggests Aland for a comprehensive introduction.
Since this book is not tied any one edition of the Greek New Testament, Comfort’s comments are on readings found in the manuscripts rather than why one reading is preferable to another. Since his comments are brief, he is able to list more variants than appear in the UBS textual apparatus. Using John 1 as an example, the UBS text lists variants in verses 3-4, 4, two in 13, 18, 19, 21, 26, 28, 34, 41, and 42. Comfort’s commentary only includes two of these variants, but includes eight other variants, all of which are found in the NA edition. With the exception of verse 18, all his comments are brief observations citing the nature of the variant as well as the presence of a nomina sacra. For significant textual problems such as the long ending of Mark, John 7:53-8:11, or the doxology in Romans 16:23, Comfort offers a more extended discussion.
Despite the fact the book is a commentary on Greek manuscripts, all Greek is transliterated and variants are cited in English. A typical entry begins with the reference followed by an English translation of what Comfort takes to be the original wording of the text in question. Following this heading Comfort offers support from the manuscripts, versions or church fathers. These explanations are brief and to the point, making it easy for a student to check variants as the read their Greek Bible.
This is a sharp looking book designed to be a companion of the UBS and NA28 Greek New Testaments. It is well-bound and printed on thin but quality paper with a sewn in book-mark (like a Bible). Since it is designed to be used as a manual, Kregel should be thanked for printing the book with durable materials.
Conclusion. Philip Comfort’s method for evaluating manuscripts will not appeal to everyone who works in textual criticism. Some of his early books were heavily criticized for being overly optimistic about papyri manuscripts and dating some of these texts too early. But that sort of critique is typical of people who do textual criticism. The two introductory chapters are a convenient collection of material which will aid anyone trying to make sense of a textual variant. There are very few books on textual criticism which give such an important place to identifying nomina sacra. Since the commentary is based on English with all Greek in transliteration, a layperson with limited Greek skills can use this volume without too much difficulty.
Metzger’s textual commentaries will still be the first off my shelf, but this resource from Comfort will be a close second.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.