Thursday, May 23, 2013

Limitations of Selective Apparatuses

In teaching through Luke 21 this week, I came across a significant textual problem that brings to mind an important methodological point.

In Luke 21:36, the "Western" witnesses say "that you might be counted worthy to escape" the traumatic events preceding the coming of Christ. The "Alexandrian" witnesses say "that you might have strength to escape." The "Byzantine" witnesses are sharply divided over these two readings. The former reading stresses the divine prerogative in escaping, whereas the latter reading stresses the human responsibility for endurance as requisite for escaping. This is a relatively significant and meaningful difference with strong support for both readings.

But what was most surprising to me was that this variant was not cited in the fourth edition of the United Bible Society's Greek New Testament! For an edition designed to minimize the clutter and emphasize the most meaningful variants for translation, they clearly dropped the ball on this one and cut down the apparatus too far. This is a good reminder that nearly every printed apparatus is necessarily selective, and when editors have to make such choices, inevitably they will make some errors, either including non-essential information or excluding essential information. The moral of the story (apart from standing firm in the faith, looking for the coming of Christ...) is that you have to be careful cutting corners by only considering the variants listed in selective critical apparatuses, because you may very well miss something important.


  1. I just checked the SBLGNT, and this variant's noted. Maybe there's something to be said for the way its footnotes compare a small set of editions, rather than trying to be an abridgement of a full critical apparatus, at least as far as selection of notable variants goes.

  2. It definitely is an interesting way of alerting readers to variant readings among modern editions. It's great that it includes Robinson and Pierpont as well, because then all the differences from the Byzantine text are highlighted. That said, it's not actually much help for textual criticism, since none of the evidence is given... :( It's nice to know what editors other than the UBS committee thought about issues though.