The Transfiguration of Our Lord

I picked up the latest edition of the New Testament in Greek this week. It is the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (and I immediately liked it … because it has bigger print than the 27th edition!). The 28th edition incorpo-rates the ongoing research and work that is happening in the world of the New Testament manuscripts. As we’ve discussed before in Bible Studies, the origins of the Bible we hold in our hands isn’t a single manuscript signed by the Apostles dated sometime in the 1st century which has been copied and copied and copied. What exists in the libraries and museums of the world are thousands of manuscripts and parts of manuscripts (over 5,600 in Greek and 19,250 in other languages). So the New Testament in Greek can be found in complete or almost complete editions but there also thousands of scraps or parts of manuscripts as well and textual scholarship is essentially comparing the texts and ‘putting them together’ so to speak.

Erasmus was the first to put together a New Testament in Greek in 1516 comparing manuscripts accessible to him and showed variations to the Vulgate (the Latin edition that was used). This was the version that Martin Luther used. Other scholars have subsequently done the same using the manuscripts they can access. Manuscripts are compared – differences noted – and compiled and a critical apparatus was developed to show these differences. In 1898 Eberhard Nestle published his first edition of his Novum Testamentum Graece. The work was continued by his son and others – notably Kurt and Barbara Aland – so that now the 28th edition has just ‘hit the shelves’.

The 28th edition is different from the 27th edition essentially in an updating of the critical apparatus and the text differs in 34 places. So in 1 Peter 4:16 Christians are encouraged to not be ashamed if they suffer as Christians but instead under that name [Christian] glorify God (27th edition). The 28th edition uses a different word so that Christians are not to be ashamed if they suffer as Christians but on that score / in that respect glorify God. This means that lots of manuscripts use one word and lots of manuscripts use the other. As more and more work is done – and even as more manuscripts are found – so the sum knowledge increases and the scholars seek to make clear the emerging evidence. There has been a lot of work done in the past decades on the ‘General Epistles’ also called the ‘Catholic Letters’ (James, I & II Peter, I & II & III John, and Jude) and the 28th edition reflects this scholarship.

So now you know. (If you’re still reading!) Granted this isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but I think this sort of information is important. It is important because it actually helps, confirms, and assures believers who live thousands of years after the event that what they are reading now is what was written back then. Some people may be upset or feel uneasy that the Bible didn’t come from immutable gold plates that can be copied ad infinitum. On the contrary, the very volume of manuscripts and the astonishing consistency among them – and the fact that they’re not hidden – scholars can get to them – testifies that the New Testament is the most verifiable ancient document on the planet. In my view, the variations in 1 Peter 4:16 do not change the meaning that Peter wrote and that the Holy Spirit wants us to know – that should we suffer for our faith, don’t be ashamed but glorify God.

We celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus today. We’d prefer Jesus to ‘shine’ all the time but that won’t draw us to him in my view. I suspect that if we had a ‘shining’ Jesus close by, we’d become pretty insufferable to live with. The eyes would take over from the ears. And it is the ears that are important for the Transfiguration. “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And we can … through his Word!  — GS