Review: Encountering the Manuscripts

1167940Philip W. Comfort is senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House Publishers and a noted scholar in the field of biblical studies and textual criticism. Comfort has a Ph.D. in Theology from Fairfax University and a second doctorate degree earned under noted textual critic Jacobus H. Petzer from the University of South Africa. Comfort has taught at several academic institutions, including Wheaton College, Trinity Episcopal Seminary, Columbia International University, and Coastal Carolina University. He is author or co-author of numerous books, including The Origins of the Bible, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (Tyndale, 2008), and the subject of the current review, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism.

Encountering the Manuscripts is the effort of several years of detailed examination of every early New Testament manuscript prior to AD 300 (viii). For Comfort, the result of this work has led to the publication of The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (with David Barrett), New Testament Text and Translation Commentary, and Encountering the Manuscripts. The first volume represents a joint effort to reconstruct the earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. The second volume represents Comfort’s longstanding desire to aid the overall conversation around the relationship between textual criticism and English translations of the Bible. This third volume focuses more narrowly on the most significant New Testament manuscripts from the vantage point of paleography and textual criticism.

According to Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts attempts: (1) to explore scribal participation in the production of the earliest New Testament writings; (2) to provide an annotated list of all significant Greek manuscripts and early versions; (3) to assign dates for the earliest New Testament manuscripts; (4) to examine the use of the nomina sacra in the early New Testament manuscripts; (5) to present the history of textual variation in the early centuries of the Christian church; (6) to explore various methods of recovering the original wording of the Greek New Testament and assess the New Testament manuscripts as to their textual groupings and their influence on New Testament textual criticism; and (7) to offer concrete examples for the praxis of textual criticism, and in so doing to identify how the papyri influenced the text of the Greek New Testament (viii).

The field of New Testament textual criticism is full of complexities and technical nuances. This is evident by the sheer number of introductory material being produced and even more evident when the bulk of that introductory material reads more like a dissertation than an introduction. While Encountering the Manuscripts isn’t going to diverge very far from that current trend, Comfort does an excellent job guiding the reader through the complex issues in such a way to bring about an understanding of the material. In fact, I would say with confidence that he does this much better than most introductions that  I have encountered. Still, the reader should be prepared to undergo and partake in a journey through a fairly complex conversation. The journey may be difficult, but the destination is more than desirable.

There are a number of excellent sections in this book that I found to be particularly helpful. First, the sections that address the topic of paleography (or the dating) of the New Testament Manuscripts are sure to be received as a highpoint for many readers. Comfort does an excellent job explaining the process and procedure that accompanies the task of paleography. Some readers may find his ascribed dates contestable, but Comfort provides ample explanation to support his conclusions. Second, the discussion that surrounds the nomina sacra (sacred name) in the New Testament manuscripts is indispensable and worth the price of the book alone. Lastly, the inclusion of a chapter devoted entirely to the praxis of New Testament textual criticism accommodates a much-needed sense of practical application. This allows the reader to experience some practical benefit from the long journey in which they just embarked on.

Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism by Philip W. Comfort will inspire readers to engage the New Testament text through cultivating a closer sense of interaction and familiarity with the manuscripts themselves. It is from this realization that the reader is able to better understand and utilize the tools of textual criticism. From the careful and comprehensive explanations provided throughout the book, to the visible firsthand familiarity with the manuscripts themselves, Comfort has provided an excellent introduction to the field. I think readers of all backgrounds and interests will find great benefit in this book. It is technical but readable, intricate but informative. If you are a student of the New Testament, a pastor, or a teacher, then I would recommend that you prepare room for this book to find a new home on your bookshelf—sooner rather than later.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Book Review: John (EGGNT)

25102444Murray J. Harris is professor emeritus of New Testament exegesis and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and formerly served as warden of Tyndale House at Cambridge University in England. Harris has a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester, where he studied under F. F. Bruce, and is the author of numerous books, including, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians from the acclaimed New International Greek Testament Commentary series (NIGTC), Colossians and Philemon in the growing Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series (EGGNT), and many more. Most recently, Harris has released his second contributing volume to the EGGNT series, a volume on the Fourth Gospel that certain to make its residence on the bookshelves of many.

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series was birthed out of a desire to function as a type of middle-ground resource that seeks to narrow the gap between the text of the Greek New Testament (UBS5) and the available lexical and grammatical tool being used by pastors and teachers today. In this present volume, Harris has delivered a goldmine of exegetical wisdom and theological insight into one of the most important New Testament books. The book begins with a very brief introduction focused on authorship, purpose, audience, setting, and date, as well as an extremely helpful and necessary section of John’s style of Greek and the overall structure of the book. The introduction concludes with a short discussion surrounding the pros and cons of five recommended commentaries and additional resources. This section is useful for the detailed reader as these resources become imperative in further investigating the exegesis that follows. However, if you are looking for an up-to-date bibliography on the Fourth Gospel this is not going to be a helpful section. Still, the abbreviations section just prior to the introduction does provide a wealth of resources mentioned throughout the book that may be of use.

As the reader enters into the commentary of the gospel, Harris has skillfully utilized a similar format and layout as the other volumes in the EGGNT series. Some accommodations have been made given the nature of the gospels themselves, as opposed to that of epistles. For example, the reader is not going to find as much sentence diagraming in this volume as the others, and the layout centers primarily around the verse level as opposed to the clause level in the other volumes. Personally, I found this to be somewhat of a disappointment because of the helpfulness of the clause level interaction for the task of exegesis. But, then again, this is primarily helpful because the other volumes are structured around the epistolary genre and not gospel narrative. Nevertheless, I think the reader will find that the verse-by-verse discussion is executed extremely well, and Harris, as anticipated, is successful in guiding the reader through the gospel of John with a fine tooth comb. Finally, after each section of the text is thoroughly examined, Harris has provided the reader with a “For Further Study” section, as well as “Homiletical Suggestions” that aid the pastor or teacher in constructing a communicational roadmap based on the previous sections.

As each volume of the EGGNT series is released the bar of exegetical example is visibly raised. Murray J. Harris has demonstrated what it looks like to provide faithful text-centered exegesis, and to do so with communication to the people of God as the primary goal. Harris has provided the reader with a detailed analysis of the lexical and grammatical style and structure of the Fourth Gospel, and he has done so in a clear and understandable way. Not only is this the best volume in the EGGNT series, but this is likely the best resource available on the market for those looking to walk through the Greek text of the Fourth Gospel. If you are a pastor, teacher, or learned laymen this resource will prove itself invaluable to your library. If you are a professor and looking for a faithful guide to send home with your students, who else would you rather have by their side than Murray J. Harris? For these reasons and many, I couldn’t recommend this resource more!

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.