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Which Greek Text? (Monday with Mounce 20)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

I get asked this question a lot. Which Greek text should I buy?

There are two things you should check first. (1) Does my teacher (or school) have a preference? Because the text critical notes are different, and because teachers will have an opinion about the different helps that come with some Greek Bibles, you need to ask this question first. (2) If possible, you should go to your school’s bookstore and actually look at them. The fonts can be considerably different and, for example, you may love or hate the italic Greek font.

When I was in school, there were only two choices, the Nestle-Aland text done by the German Bible Society, and The Greek New Testament done by the United Bible Societies. What has made things much easier, now, is that these two groups got together (some of the editors served on both committees) and agreed on a common critical text that is virtually identical (there are some minor differences). In other words, the Greek text itself in both these volumes is the same. Your decision will be made on another basis.

Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (27th edition revised; German Bible Society) is the one I use. It’s primary distinctive is in the text critical notes. They give significantly more variants than the United Bible Societies’ text but with fewer references to each variant. In my experience, though, they give more than enough references. The font is clear and readable, and you can get an edition with a dictionary (which is nice if you are reading along at church and get stuck on a word). For you Greek Geeks out there, you can also get an edition that is black leather; I use this because I don’t want people at church reading over my shoulder and thinking that I think I am someone special. It’s my "Stealth Bible." There is also a large print edition as well as a diglot, Greek on one side and the RSV (English) on the other.

The Greek New Testament (4th edition revised; United Bible Societies) has a Greek text identical to the Nestle-Aland. The main difference is that they give fewer text critical variants but many more references to each variant. If you are writing a technical paper and it is important to see a wider range of witnesses, then this is the text to use. My biggest complaint against this text, and why I shifted to the Nestle-Aland, is that the current printing uses an italic Greek font, which does nothing but hurt my aging eyes. I have also seen printings where the paper was so thin that the text bled through the page making reading even harder. Perhaps this problem has been fixed. The font is slightly larger than my Nestle-Aland and the margins are wider. You can buy it with a concise dictionary (English or Spanish), and there also is a diglot with the NET Bible (very cool).

For both NA27 and UBS4, you can browse available versions at the American Bible Society website.

We now get into specialized Greek texts. Zondervan has published A Reader’s Greek New Testament, edited by Goodrich and Lukaszewski. The Greek text is a reconstructed text by Kohlenberger and Fee that shows the textual decisions of the TNIV committee. Footnotes show where it is different from the UBS/NA text. As Gordon Fee is one of the top textual critics today, this text (along with the NET notes) gives a helpful alternative to the decisions of the UBS/NA folk. This is also the Greek text that I used in my interlinears. What makes this text helpful especially for second to third year Greek student is that the meaning of all words occurring 30 times or less are given in the footnotes, thus encouraging rapid reading of the Greek Testament.

There is no parsing information. It also comes with a cool Italian Duo-Tone cover and hence can function as another "stealth Bible." The first edition used (in my opinion) a horrible and unreadable italic Greek font, and evidently I was not alone in that judgment and in the second edition the Greek font is much more readable. You can download a pdf of parts of the book here.

The German Bible Society publishes a similar product, The UBS Greek New Testament. It uses the UBS text (4th edition) but without the textual apparatus. It includes Newman’s Greek-English dictionary, the meanings of all words occurring 30 times or less (adjusted for context), and also footnoted help on some of the more difficult forms (i.e., parsings). Its larger print and wider margins makes this an especially helpful tool if your goal is to read large chunks of the Greek text.

There are other tools such as interlinears, but these are the most helpful Greek texts out there. Which one should you buy? As I said as the beginning, ask your teacher if he or she has a preference, but nothing beats standing in a bookstore and looking at the text itself.

For more information, and web access to pictures and pdfs, see my reading lists at BillMounce.com.

Mounce William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.

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