The value of Tregelles’s Greek New Testament
Why would one bother with a Greek New Testament printed in the 19th century? Has
it not been superseded by improvements, new discoveries, and a finer methodology?
Is this text not simply a relic from the past, with mere curiosity value, but of
no further importance?
First of all, in order to understand where the textual criticism of the New Testament
is at the moment, it is of crucial importance to know how we arrived at this point.
The principles Tregelles laid down, and the result of these principles (alongside
the evidence he provides for and against his choice of text), are part of the history
of the discipline and form an important contribution to that discipline.
Secondly, even after 150 years, Tregelles's edition pays attention to variants that
are not recorded in the Greek New Testament mostly used in the universities and seminaries,
the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. Many of these variants are not yet covered by any
of the current major projects in the textual criticism of the New Testament (though
many of these will be found in Tischendorf's edition and the work by Von Soden).
Though it is likely that this situation will change in the coming decades, there
is still real value in the collection of the evidence.
Thirdly, independent voices need to be heard and not forgotten. It happens all too
often that students of and commentators on the Greek text find safety in the consensus
text, tacitly accepting the methodology and assumptions of the day. Dissenting voices
from the past such as Tregelles, who earned the right to be heard by means of his
long exposure to and interaction with the evidence and methodology of the discipline,
can guard us from a misplaced confidence.
Fourthly, Tregelles can arguably be described as a theologically conservative scholar.
There is a sense in which this conservatism shines through in his method. Tregelles
had come to the conclusion that any speculation and reliance on a constructed history
of transmission was a dangerous thing to do, but that the only sure ground for establishing
the text of the New Testament was to limit oneself to what can be seen in the manuscripts
as surviving artefacts. Tregelles combined this notion with his conviction that theology
should follow from the text, and that therefore he stood under an obligation to print
the text established to the best of his abilities.
All this does not imply that the text of Tregelles is the best possible text. His
search for the oldest evidence has led him to accept readings that many would consider
inferior to readings which, though found in later manuscripts, may have a stronger
claim to be original. Likewise, the fact that he only made one edition deprived him
of the opportunity of using his acquired experience and increased knowledge to improve
his text further. And, of course, since the days of Tregelles new discoveries have
been made and the access to the existing data has improved. In many cases this may
lead to a different balance of probabilities, but at times it may also substantiate
the option chosen by Tregelles. An orthographic example of the latter is the reading
εἴπασα (a weak aorist participle ending on a strong aorist stem) in John 11:28, καὶ
τοῦτο εἰποῦσα ἀπῆλθεν καὶ ἐφώνησεν Μαριὰμ τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς λάθρα εἴπασα, κτλ. Tregelles
admitted this rare form in the text on the basis of the testimony of Vaticanus (B)
and Tischendorf’s edition of Ephraemi rescriptus (C). Since then the same form has
also been found in the very early Bodmer papyrus of John (1).
The Greek New Testament of Tregelles remains valuable, despite its shortcomings.
Apart from the pure historical interest, we hope that the process of making the text
digitally available, providing access to the evidence by means of the images, and
enabling both scholars and interested enthusiasts to trace the decisions made by
Tregelles will spark fresh insights and independent decisions. With his heavy emphasis
on evidence and dislike of speculation Tregelles provides a healthy counter-weight
to some more speculative approaches found in the history of the textual criticism
of the New Testament.
(1) The latest examination of Ephraemi Rescriptus as found in the majuscules volume
of IGNTP - John concluded, contra Tischendorf, that the original reading of this
manuscript was εἰποῦσα.