Friday, December 27, 2013

My search for the Greek New Testament

Many of you have heard that I am learning Ancient Greek, and that part of the reason for doing so is to be able to read the New Testament in the original. I was curious to see how hard it is to obtain a copy of that online (emphasis on "copy" - not to be confused with original manuscripts), and so I typed it into Google. I discovered that there are a large variety of different editions, some published by one group, some by another. This was a bit of a problem, as I needed to commit to one version for price reasons, and it's hard to know which one to pick.

In a matter like this, I value the opinion of my church's scholars (I am a Mormon), and so I did some research on church scholarship of the Greek New Testament. BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii do not have Classics departments and thus do not teach Ancient Greek; but BYU-Provo does have a Classics department, and offers a class or two on the Greek New Testament (one on the Gospels, and one a repeatable class that focuses on other books, including some by early Christian writers about the New Testament.) Thus I considered the opinion of BYU-Provo's Greek professors more valuable than any other I could realistically obtain. (I couldn't talk to any of the church's apostles about it, so this seemed the next best thing.)

I was originally thinking about emailing some of the Greek professors at BYU, and asking them what version of the Bible they recommended. My dad also recommended talking to Brother Samuel Johnson, my local teacher for Institute classes (religious classes offered by my church). I talked to him, and mentioned my predicament. I told him I didn't even know how to go about obtaining this information about what version to get. He said to contact the BYU Bookstore, because the books it sells are those required and/or recommended by the professors. (He also advised me to save my money, and buy it somewhere else. Wise advice.)

I decided to investigate some other options as well, which included searching the LDS Distribution Centers' websites, as well as the website of Deseret Book. I believe this was how my mom obtained my French copy of the Book of Mormon. But this avenue did not assist in finding a Greek New Testament, and finding even French-language copies of the Book of Mormon was somewhat difficult. (Trying to reduplicate what my mom had done there ... )

When I searched (an official church website), my search led me to the Bible Dictionary at the back of LDS editions of the Bible, and specifically, its entry on the Bible itself. From there, I learned of yet another complication, which I will share in exact quotation because I also find it interesting:

"A Greek manuscript is called an Uncial if it is written entirely in capital letters and a Cursive if written in smaller letters and a running hand. Uncials are denoted for purposes of reference by capital letters and are relatively few in number, there being less than 70 known Uncial manuscripts, only 21 of which are at all complete. Cursive manuscripts are very numerous, being in the thousands, and are denoted by numbers. These are of later date than the Uncials and are of less importance as evidence of the original text." (Source: Bible Dictionary entry on Bible itself)

Clearly, if there are different editions of even the early manuscripts (and our editions of the Bible support this claim, as documented above), that makes the search still more complicated. I was about ready to call up the BYU Bookstore in Provo and ask them about it, when it occurred to me to look at their website.

When I did so, I went through different screens for ordering textbooks, and was able to discover which books were required for which classes, and how much the BYU Bookstore charged for them. I specified GREEK 311 (the class on the New Testament Gospels), and discovered exactly what I was looking for: a list of the books required for the class. I say "books," because there were many of them: a Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, a book on Greek grammar, the HarperCollins Study Bible, and (finally) a specific edition of "Novum Testamentum Graece," the Greek edition of the New Testament itself, linked to here. (Why the book's name was written with Latin rather than Greek characters, I do not yet know; but that's the version the BYU Bookstore sold, so it must be good.) I thought about getting them all, when I discovered their prices: nearly $200 to get them all used at the BYU Bookstore, and still more to get them new. This was beginning to seem out of my price range.

Luckily, they did provide the titles and authors of the books, which enabled me to Google-search them and compare prices. But I did not immediately find much in the way of price reductions. Amazon's page on the "Novum Testamentum Graece" charges over $250 to get it (used or new), compared to $45 used for the BYU Bookstore. That price has since gone down, but I soon discovered the reason for the price difference: BYU sold the 2nd edition of Nestle-Aland's version, where Amazon sold the 27th edition (a newer and thus more expensive version). I could not find the 2nd edition outside of the BYU Bookstore anywhere, but found the 4th edition at for just $30, and decided to go with that and save money. (Technically it's my family's money, but it's spent on me for Christmas - and the cheaper I can find one present, the more I can get of another.) I wasn't keen on the combined prices of the other books for the class, which were the lexicon (a.k.a. dictionary), the grammar, and the HarperCollins Study Bible; so I thought I might forgo those, and just concentrate on the Greek New Testament itself, perhaps with one other book (like the lexicon).

It was quite a lengthy process to find the right edition, but I think it will be worth all this work, as I value the opinion of church scholars on this subject, and wanted to make sure I got the best version of these scriptures. I thought others might find this story interesting, even if they do not want to get a copy of the Greek New Testament themselves, and so I now send this out for the world to see. If there are any others who are likewise interested in doing this, I hope this account of my experiences has been helpful.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

My search for the Hebrew Bible in the original

Why I am learning Ancient Greek

How I found Plato in the original Greek

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