Glenn Holland will be launching a study of the book of Hebrews in February 2017. I have studied the book before, of course, but welcome another run at it with the perspectives and insights that Glenn will bring to the table.
A large part of the way I study Scripture is to essentially do the work of translation. I have in my previous studies translated large portions of the book, but I’ve never taken it on as a book translation project. I think this upcoming study might be a good time to revisit my files, finish out the translation of Hebrews and post it here.
There are some observations I need to make, regarding text, translation philosophy and formatting. In each of these three categories, my preferences and choices go against the grain of currently popular trends in Bible versions. I therefore am doing this work for myself, primarily. If it benefits anyone else, that will be a blessing to me (and frankly, something of a surprise).
The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so when people speak of translating the New Testament, they are talking about translating from the original source language (Greek) into a target language (in our case, English). For more than 1,400 years (before the time of the moveable type printing press in Europe), the Greek New Testament (hereafter, GNT) was copied by hand.
Nearly 5,800 of these manuscripts (the very word meaning “hand-written”) have survived, but many are incomplete or have gaps, and no two manuscripts are identical. (These manuscripts agree overwhelmingly in wording, but there are some slight variant readings between them.) Greek scholars and textual critics have classified the manuscripts into four major groups. These four groupings of manuscripts are also referred to as textual “families.” Other designations include text-types and textforms. However, just two of these textforms have been consistently used by translators: the Byzantine textform and the Alexandrian textform.
Numerous printed editions of these two textforms of the GNT have been published over the last several centuries. After the first printed edition of the GNT (edited by Desiderius Erasmus) was published in 1516, more than a dozen printed editions followed. These all exhibit an inferior quality of text, based on comparatively few late and fragmentary Greek manuscripts. The first of these editions that claimed to be the Textus Receptus (Latin for “Received Text”) was published by the Elzevir family in Holland in 1633. Since this edition was based on the editions of Erasmus, the appellation Textus Receptus or TR came to be applied to all of the editions of this type, from Erasmus onward.
The TR is essentially an inferior or corrupted form of the Byzantine text-type. The Byzantine textual family has the most surviving Greek manuscripts by far, with copies dating back to the fifth century AD, with known readings from this textform even earlier. The Byzantine text-type is the basis of the official GNT text of the Greek Orthodox Church, the authorized 1904 text of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, made available in print and online. Two major printed editions that also represent the Byzantine textform are: The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, edited by Zane Hodges and Arthur Farstad and published in 1982; and The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, a text “compiled and arranged” by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont, published for years in electronic form, and in print in 2005.
From the eighteenth century onward, discoveries of many manuscripts of the GNT were made. Many of these were representatives of the Alexandrian textform (named for manuscripts associated with Alexandria, Egypt). In the nineteenth century, textual critics in both England and Germany produced several notable printed editions of the GNT exhibiting the Alexandrian textform.
German textual critic Karl Lachmann was the first major editor to reject the Textus Receptus. He sought to restore the ancient reading current in manuscripts of the Alexandrian text-type. His 1831 edition of the Nouum Testamentum Graece (Latin for “Greek New Testament”) contained no apparatus, but departed from the then dominant text of the Textus Receptus.
In 1849, English theologian and textual critic Henry Alford first produced The Greek Testament: with a Critically Revised Text; a Digest of Various Readings; Marginal References to Verbal and Idiomatic Usage; Prolegomena; and a Critical and Exegetical Commentary. This set went through several printings; my copy was published in four volumes in 1884. Many Greek manuscripts have been discovered since Alford’s time, but for the day it was cutting edge. Even today, it is still a useful tool.
Another English scholar, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, published his GNT in six volumes during his lifetime, beginning in 1857, and published in a single volume in 1872. It was a Greek and Latin edition in parallel columns, entitled The Greek New Testament, Edited from Ancient Authorities, with their Various Readings in Full, and the Latin Version of Jerome. It also contained an extensive critical apparatus.
Lobegott Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf, published an edition of the GNT in Germany. Actually, Tischendorf published several editions, but his eighth edition, the Nouum Testamentum Graece: Editio Octava Critica Maior (Latin for “Greek New Testament: Eighth Major Critical Edition”), is the most significant. Published in 1869 (Volume I, containing the Gospels) and 1872 (Volume II, containing the rest of the New Testament), it contains not only his edition of the text, but an extensive critical apparatus detailing manuscript evidence and other witnesses.
A decade later (1881) in England, editors Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort published The New Testament in the Original Greek. Their edition of the GNT was definitely Alexandrian in textform, and is arguably the most influential. It was this text that was adopted by the translators of the English Revised Version of 1881 (Hort was a member of the Revision Committee), the first time a committee-based, standard English version of the New Testament was translated from an Alexandrian form of the Greek text.
Another Englishman, Richard Francis Weymouth, a schoolmaster and Baptist layman, created in 1892 The Resultant Greek Testament, an eclectic text based on the texts of eighteenth and nineteenth century textual critics (including Lachmann, Alford, Tischendorf, Tregelles and Westcott-Hort). This edition of the GNT was later consulted for the early editions of another German critic named Eberhard Nestle. Speaking of which…
In 1898, Eberhard Nestle published his first edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece. His text was also a “resultant” text of sorts, being more of a dissemination of the insights of other textual critics than an edition based on his own manuscript analysis. He engineered his text to be a representative of the Alexandrian textform, by basing his text on the readings in the editions of Tischendorf and Westcott-Hort. In the case of readings where those two texts were divided, Nestle used the Weymouth’s GNT to be the tie-breaker, and placed the variant of the third reading in an apparatus at the bottom of the page. Beginning with his third edition, Nestle substituted the GNT of fellow German Bernard Weiss (1894-1900) instead of Weymouth’s as the tie-breaker. Eberhard Nestle published nine editions during his lifetime, and three additional printings were published posthumously, each following the same method, having the same rudimentary apparatus.
After Eberhard Nestle’s passing in 1913, his son Erwin carried on his work in the twentieth century, with the 13th edition (1927) providing an expanded critical apparatus at the bottom of the page, referencing readings for various Greek manuscripts. Another German textual critic, Kurt Aland, beginning in 1952 (the 21st edition) checked the apparatus entries against Greek manuscripts and patristic citations. By the 25th edition in 1963, the Novum Testamentum Graece was branded as Nestle-Aland. In 1979, a few years after the death of Erwin Nestle, the “Nestle-Aland” 26th edition was published, with Nestle-Aland 27th appearing in 1993, and the 28th in 2012.
In 1966, five national Bible Societies (American Bible Society, British & Foreign Bible Society, National Bible Society of Scotland, Netherlands Bible Society and Württemberg Bible Society) jointly published The Greek New Testament. This became known as the United Bible Societies text. Kurt Aland was also a part of this project from the very beginning. The second edition commonly known as UBS2, was published in 1968, and UBS3 in 1975. With the third edition, Aland and UBS the editors decided to adopt the same Greek text. The UBS4 was published in 1983, and UBS5 in 2014. Both the Novum Testamentum Graece and The Greek New Testament continue to be published separately, but with the exact same text (but each with a different critical apparatus).
So, among scholars and textual critics, the current text of the GNT most employed by translators is the text published in the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies’ editions. However, I believe the Byzantine textform more reliably reflects the transmission of the original text of the GNT down through the centuries. I base my translation work on the Robinson/Pierpont edition of 2005. The Byzantine textform differs in places from the Alexandrian textform, and since the Alexandrian text has been the basis of most English translations for the last 135 years, my translation will differ in places with many of the common committee-based translations (NASB, NIV, ESV, etc.).
A second observation I need to make involves translation philosophy. There are essentially two different schools of thought on how to translate from a source language to a target language: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence. Formal equivalence is also referred to as literal and/or word-for-word translation. These descriptions are too simplistic, but that’s the basic idea. Dynamic equivalence is basically a thought-for-thought translation or paraphrase. The translation approach that I use is formal equivalence.
Formal equivalence does not always mean word-for-word literal. The very nature of translating from one language to another makes that inadvisable. Idioms and word order in Greek often do not read well in English when translated with exact equivalency. For example, a literal word-for-word rendering of Hebrews 2:3 from Greek to English would read
“how we, shall we escape, so great neglecting a salvation? which a beginning taking, to be spoken through the Lord, by those having heard was confirmed to us,”
For an English reader, that literal approach in this verse is at best awkward, and at its worst, confusing. There is a doubling of pronouns in the first clause, which in Koine Greek signifies emphasis, but in English comes across as redundant and awkward. The phrase “a beginning taking” not only is an example of different word order between the two languages, but also an idiom in Greek that conveys the sense “originally.” So here is Hebrews 2:3 again, as I have chosen to translate it.
“how shall we escape, neglecting so great a salvation? Which, originally spoken through the Lord, was confirmed to us by those having heard Him,”
So I have translated this verse in accordance with the principles of formal equivalence, but not in a slavishly literal fashion. This is how I will approach the translation project as a whole.
About formatting, some of my choices pertain to the text of my translation, while others to information I choose to place in footnotes.
In the text of my translation, words or phrases in italics indicate expressions in the original languages which require clarification by added English words. Furthermore, I choose to capitalize nouns and pronouns referring to the names/titles of the Godhead.
As for the footnotes, first of all, they are indicated in the text by superscript, italicized numerals, e.g., 4. There are three categories of information in the footnotes: identification of Scripture quotations, as in Old Testament quotes in the New; alternate translations; and notes of a text critical nature, e.g., instances of omissions or additions to the Greek text.
Regarding text critical information, certain sources will be cited by their abbreviations. The following is a key to these source abbreviations.
Alf = Henry Alford’s The Greek Testament
Aram = Aramaic
Byz = The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, Robinson/Pierpont
DSS = Dead Sea Scrolls
Grk – Greek
Heb = Hebrew
LXX = The Greek Septuagint
M = The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, edited by Hodges/Farstad
MS = manuscript, plural MSS
MT = Masoretic Text (standard Hebrew text of the Old Testament)
NU = the Greek New Testament text of Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies
SP = Samaritan Pentateuch
Syr = Syriac, a.k.a., Syriac Aramaic, a dialect of Middle Aramaic
Tg = Targum (Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Scriptures)
Tis = Constantin von Tischendorf’s Nouum Testamentum Graece: Editio Octava Critica Maior
TR = Textus Receptus or “Received Text” of the Greek New Testament
Tr = Samuel Prideaux Tregelles’ The Greek New Testament
Vg = Vulgate, the late 4th century AD Latin translation of the Scriptures
Vss = Versions (ancient translations of the GNT in Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, etc.)
WH = Brooke Foss Westcott & Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek
I’ll make one more observation, and it’s about myself, not my translation. I make no claim to be a scholar of Biblical languages. That word scholar does have an archaic application to a student, and only in that sense could you say I am a scholar. I have been a student of Biblical Hebrew and Greek for decades.
Even then, I am not student in the sense of attending a college or university, majoring in Biblical/theological studies. I took one course in New Testament Greek for beginners 43 years ago, offered by an unaccredited school. And that’s it. All of my studies beyond that have been done on my own; I am self-taught.
I make these statements not in these sense of an apology, but in the sense of full disclosure. The fact is, one does not need a college education to study a subject in depth, nor does one need a sheepskin to show proof of learning. I have no initials after my name, no college degree, in fact, no college education whatsoever. In case that matters to someone, I’m making a full disclosure here and now.
So it comes back down to the fact that I am primarily doing this work for myself. If anyone else finds it helpful, that will be a blessing to me.
ἡ γὰρ ἀγάπη τοῦ λόγου Θεοῦ,
Larry G. Overton
March 5, 2017