07 April 2008

New Testaments for Reading

Aspiring students of the New Testament are always on the lookout for tools to help them build facility in the Greek language. The most common need—and, until recently, the most glaring lacuna—are tools that take them beyond introductory grammars without requiring them to struggle through the text with nothing but the Greek text on one side of the desk and BDAG on the other. Since 1966 NT students have had help from Max Zerwick, whose Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament eliminated the need to be constantly (and frustratingly) flipping through BDAG, giving readers a running analysis of uncommon words and syntactical constructions. Zerwick’s work is unwieldy, however; its binding prevents it from lying open by itself, and it also caused those who utilized it to carry around two volumes instead of one. More recently, the NT has been even made more accessible to beginning Greek students by projects in which immediate lexical aid is provided in the Greek text itself, allowing beginning students and pastors to read extended portions of the NT with only one volume in hand. The most recent installment is an edition of the well-known UBS edition, edited by Bruce Metzger, the Alands, and others (The UBS Greek New Testament: A Reader’s Edition [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007]; hereafter UBSRE). Barclay Newman has compiled the running lexical aid. This volume has taken its place on my desk as the best of its kind.

I thought it might be helpful to someone out there (!) to compare this project with the similar one produced by Zondervan, A Reader’s Greek New Testament, edited by Goodrich/Lukaszewski and released in 2003 (hereafter ZNT). The similarities between the two are obvious: both provide an extremely practical tool by providing definitions of every word that occurs fewer than thirty times in the Greek NT.

Some of the differences are obvious upon immediately flipping open both texts, and these ultimately show that the UBSRE is more user-friendly than the alternative. First, UBSRE utilizes standard font for the Greek text (with OT quotations italicized), whereas ZNT, like the standard UBS text, has italicized the Greek (with OT quotations in bold; the 2007 2d edition does, however have non-italicized font). Second, the lexical aid that takes up the bottom half of the page in both volumes is easier on the eyes in UBSRE, since while ZNT provides a running list in unbroken paragraph form—making location of the desired definition needlessly difficult—UBSRE simply provides two vertical columns on each page, making rapid scanning between the Greek text and lexical definitions as painless and as speedy as possible. Third, UBSRE parses all verbal forms and provides meanings of particularly unusual phrases. This strength is somewhat mitigated in that ZNT provides numerous translational options for each word, whereas UBSRE provides only one option, though contextual factors have been allowed to inform these choices. Fourth, the nice big margins of UBSRE provide plenty of room for note-jotters. Fifth, the text used by UBSRE will be preferred by most students to that of ZNT—the Greek text used for the latter is the eclectic textual tradition that stands behind the New International Version. Also, like the standard UBS, maps are included for reference at the very back of the text.

UBSRE is not, however, without its weaknesses. First, the lexical aid prohibits the possibility for any kind of textual apparatus—though this is true also of ZNT, and for the level of student/pastor at which these kinds of tools are targeted, the apparatus is not crucial. Second, unlike ZNT, UBSRE has oddly elected not to provide the references for OT citations. That was a surprise to me and is a bit frustrating. Third, the decision to make the definitions on the bottom of each page easier on the eye has caused UBSRE to run much longer than desirable, making it as least twice the size and weight of the slim ZNT.

For academic and research purposes, either NA27 or UBS4 retain their rightful place of preeminence. And ZNT may be preferred if size is an issue—say, for the pastor wishing to take his NT on the go (though even here it is difficult to see the more convenient size of ZNT making up for the annoying italic font). But for personal reading and for increasing facility with the language, whether by college and seminary students or by pastors wishing to rekindle their skills in the original text of the NT, UBSRE is a tremendous tool. I had been using ZNT for the past few years until recently acquiring UBSRE, and I will not go back. At the end of the day, though, I am grateful for all the tools mentioned above. They encourage students to stick with their aspirations to master the Greek of the New Testament. For this and for the increased knowledge of and love for God’s holy Word that it will breed, we may be thankful to Newman and others.

See another review/comparison here.


Gavin Ortlund said...

hey dane,

I really love the ZNT you got me! I use it all the time.


Agkyra said...

I bought one of the ZNTs when it came out in 2003 and hated the font. And I was never comfortable with the reverse-engineered NIV -> Greek text. I thought Zondervan was supposed to publish a new edition this year or last that had a new typeface ... ?

Dane Ortlund said...

You're right Philip. In 07 they did a 2d ed and it is no longer italics, but some of the other weaknesses mentioned in the post remain. Hope you are well brother!