A little behind the times, I admit, but I learn today that the Society of Biblical Literature is producing a new critical edition of the Greek New Testament. Better news yet — it is not based on Nestlé-Aland and is being made freely available online in unicode form with the creation of derivative works encouraged and non-commercial use pretty much free. A printed version is available also. Michael W. Holmes has done the legwork, and details are available here at www.sblgnt.com. Rick Brannan helped out here. A review of the Galatians text by Stephen C. Carlson is here.
This can only be a very good thing. We urgently need the critical text of the NT online, in unicode, usable by anyone who wants to. Without such a text, the creation of tools to work on the text would be sabotaged by absurd claims of copyright on the text of the the Word of God. The MorphGNT project was derailed by such copyright claims, or so I understand. Now we are free to move forward.
The SBL text is, of course, a first stab at a text and no doubt many defects, major and minor, will be found. But anything that makes a modern critical text available like this is to be welcomed. It is also a useful reminder that the questions of variants are not finally finished, and should enable a new generation of scholars to contribute. Let the fun commence!
The apparatus is the weakest part, reflecting four editions rather than the raw manuscript data. But a few scholars should be able to put together an apparatus from the manuscripts ab initio without undue effort, and this may well be a valuable exercise in updating, all by itself. After all, after 27 editions, you don’t quite know how much is rechecked and how much just carried forward on faith. Let us hope that volunteers come forward to do this. It’s an opportunity to start again, using the best of what has been done in the past but with a new and fresh approach.
Michael Holmes announced the publication on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog here in October, and answers some questions here. He has recognised that the NIV English translation is perhaps the standard modern translation, and the Greek text behind it is therefore of wide interest. He has therefore made this text one of the inputs to his edition, and included it in the apparatus. This shrewd decision should promote acceptance of the edition more than any other single factor.