Book Review: Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism

Porter, Stanley E. and Andrew W. Pitts. Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 202 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to Eerdmans

This new introduction to New Testament textual Criticism is intended as a companion to Porter’s Fundamentals of New Testament Greek (with Jeffrey T. Reed and Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Eerdmans 2010). Porter laments the lack of an intermediate textual criticism handbook for use on college or seminary classrooms. Metzger or Aland is too detailed for many students, others are too brief (Black or Greenlee, for example). In addition, textual discoveries often render the data in a handbook out of date, so new editions are always necessary.

Porter_Fundamentals of NT Textual Criticism_wrk 03.inddThere are some sections of the book which are similar to other textual criticism handbooks. After a brief chapter introducing textual criticism, there are chapters on materials used for making manuscripts, types of manuscript evidence (papyri, majuscules, minuscules, lectionaries, versions and patristic quotations) and text-types. These chapters are brief and accompanied by charts illustrating key manuscripts in each category. In general this material is presented clearly, although there is little in this section which sets this textbook apart from others.

There are four chapters dedicated to method. First, Porter and Pitts survey four modern methods (stemmatic, Byzantine/Majority text, eclectic methods, and a single text model). Although the stemmatic/genealogical methods have become popular in recent years, Porter and Pitts conclude that only reasoned eclecticism can provide objectivity for determining the original reading of a text (96).

Chapter 8 concerns weighing external evidence, including date, text-type and geographical distribution. The authors place a priority on external evidence for determining a reading, weighing the date and text-type, geographical distribution and genealogical relationships. The strongest reading, they conclude, is “supported by the oldest manuscripts representing the widest geographical spread and having no genealogical relationship” (108).

Internal evidence is divided into two sections (chapters 9 and 10). The first section deals with “transcriptional probabilities” (including eight scribal errors). In this chapter Porter and Pitts deal with the traditional rules of textual criticism, more difficult reading, shorter vs. longer readings, harmonization and more difficult grammar. While they do recognize there are some doctrinal changes made in the copying process, “theological tampering was not typical” and should only be appealed to if all other canons of textual criticism fail (120). Here they have Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus in view. Because of the popularity of that particular book, there Porter and Pitts discuss several examples from Erhman’s book cited as evidence for doctrinal changes.

A second chapter on internal evidence deals with the “intrinsic probabilities” such as the author’s style, theological and literary coherence, linguistic and source consistency. This is a far more subjective method and requires a great deal from the text critic in terms of familiarity with Greek grammar used by authors.

There are a few features which I found helpful which are not common in other textual criticism textbooks. First, Porter and Pitts include a chapter on canon (ch. 2). To a certain extent this material seems extraneous to the method of textual criticism. I am not sure they make a clear connection between their interesting discussion of the development of the canon and the process of textual criticism. A professor could easily omit it without losing the argument of the book, although from my experience students often have questions about canon at this point in their Greek training.

Second, they include two very useful chapters on the development of the Nestle-Aland and UBS texts.  Chapter 12 is particularly good for professors since it describes how to use both the NA27/28 and the UBS4/5. The book is therefore a good resource regardless of the chosen Greek New Testament chose by the professor. The story of how the two major critical editions developed is more than interesting, this section places the activity of textual criticism into its proper place in church history.

Third, the book includes a helpful summary of translation strategies as they relate to textual criticism (chapter 13). The chapter includes lists of the various abbreviations and marginalia of both editions. Page 148 has a photograph of a page from the NA28 Greek New Testament with arrows identifying everything on the page; page 163 does the same for the UBS4. For some students, this chapter alone will be worth the price of the book.

Each chapter has a list of key terminology and a useful bibliography. There are a handful of B&W illustrations in the chapter on materials. These could be expanded greatly, perhaps with a section of illustrations. I assume these are limited in order to keep the cost of the book lower for students. Ideally Eerdmans could provide illustrations by way of color PowerPoint slides in a teacher’s supplement. One additional resource I would like to see in a textbook such as this are a series of assignments included as a part of the methodology chapters. For example, after introducing the various kinds of scribal errors, it would be very helpful to have a sheet of examples for students to work through and identify the variants. After learning the method of weighing internal evidence, I would like to have several pages of examples so students can work through evidence and make some textual determinations for themselves.

Conclusion. I have used J. Harold Greenlee’s small handbook for many years to supplement Bill Mounce’s Graded Reader from Zondervan in a third semester Greek class. I share same frustrations expressed by Porter about both brevity and datedness. I plan on using this book next year for third semester Greek and intro to Textual Criticism.

Porter and Pitts have written a useful textbook which incorporates additional material the smaller handbooks cannot, yet is still accessible for early Greek students. The information in this handbook will be valuable to anyone reading the Greek New Testament.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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