So you want to learn about the field of New Testament textual criticism, but the task seems daunting. The vast number of manuscripts, the task of reconstructing the Word of God, and the subjective decisions that must be made on the basis of internal and external evidence can be a bit overwhelming. Harold Greenlee’s The Text of the New Testament, then, is the perfect resource for you.
Greenlee’s presentation of New Testament textual criticism is simple without being simplistic. Writing for students with little to no Greek knowledge, Greenlee introduces the novice to the subject without overtly technical language. He even avoids the use of Greek. (If I recall accurately, Greenlee used Greek less than 10 times throughout the entire work.) Instead, all illustrations from the Greek text, and there are many, are translated. In other words, the book is accessible to any and all.
Greenlee’s text is a delightful and quick read. Chapters include what the ancient books looked like (wax tablets, papyrus scrolls, and codices), how manuscripts were written, the ancient records of the Greek NT, how the Greek NT survived by copying throughout the centuries, changes undergone by the introduction of the printing press, how to determine the correct reading of a text (internal and external evidence), a look at the various types of variants (spelling variants, variants with no significant bearing on the meaning of the text, variant with some bearing on meaning, and longer variants), the Greek NT and modern translations, and a brief summary chapter.
As I mentioned, this was a delightful read. Greenlee tells a story of the tools of the scribal trade, the creation and transmission of the text throughout history, the evolution of the printed Greek text from Erasmus’ rushed edition to the NA27/UBS4, and the manner in which modern English translations engage in textual criticism. Greenlee has provided us with a true introduction we are given a fly over of the overall landscape of textual criticism. No topic is treated comprehensively or in depth. It is incumbent upon us to pick a hill, valley, stream, or patch of woods to explore in greater detail.