Book Review: Roger Omanson’s ‘A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament’

[Roger L. Omanson A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger’s Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators. 2006, German Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany]

For those who’ve wondered about those footnotes in modern Bible versions and the reasons why some passages are ‘shortened’ (e.g. Matthew 6:13) while others are ‘omitted entirely’ (e.g. Acts 8:37), Roger Omanson’s work can provide assistance.  Ideally suited as a companion to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (Fourth Revised Edition) [yes, it’s all in Greek], better known as UBS4, Omanson’s work (like the Metzger version upon which his book is based) explains why some passages have been ‘amended’ or ‘taken out entirely’ based on the discipline known as textual criticism.

Textual criticism, as it pertains to the New Testament, is the ongoing process (more manuscripts are unearthed every year it seems) of assessing all known manuscripts containing Biblical material with the goal of determining the original text.  All the original autographs, as they are known, are no longer in existence.   Therefore, this is important work!

Omanson adapts Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: Second Edition [1994 German Bible Society, Stuttgart], dispensing with some of the technical jargon while adding some more verbiage for clarification, with the goal of making it easier to read for those whom English is not their primary language and for the average layperson. The Greek words remain in Greek font yet they are also translated to the English (not transliterated). Omanson’s work still requires a bit of knowledge about textual criticism; however, a primer is included in the “Introduction” which retains some of the same info as Metzger’s edition but, again, with added information and more simplified verbiage.

Omanson uses most but not all the comments on variants contained in the Metzger. Yet, given that Koine Greek (the Greek of the NT) was limited in punctuation and that the manuscripts mostly do not contain punctuation, Omanson adds what he calls “Segmentation” on some verses illustrating additional exegetical considerations (such as the difficulty in ascertaining the point at which a quoted portion ends, as well as the possibility of phrasing some discourse as questions rather than statements and vice versa), providing an added bonus.  [See what is known as the Codex Sinaiticus here (designated as א – aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) taking notice of how all the text runs together.]

It may be helpful to provide a direct comparison between the two versions using John 7:8 as one example. First is Metzger followed by Omanson

7:8 ουκ {C}

The reading ούπω was introduced at an early date (it is attested by p66,75) in order to alleviate the inconsistency between ver. 8 and ver. 10.

7:8 ουκ (not) {C}

The reading ούπω (not yet) was introduced at an early date in order to remove the inconsistency between v. 8, in which Jesus said that he was not going to the festival in Judea, and v. 10, where it is stated that he did go. Following the variant, NIV and Seg read, “I am not yet going up to this Feast.”

[ED: “Seg” is the designation for a modern French translation  (Louis Segond).]

The bracketed “C” above corresponds to a grading system (A, B, C, or D) by the UBS4 committee designating the relative certainty of the variant chosen (according to the committee) with A being “certain”, B “nearly certain”, while C “indicates that the committee had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text”, with D illustrating “great difficulty” [from Metzger p 14* and UBS4 p 3*]. Unfortunately, Omanson does not include this rating system in his volume. Omanson’s edition can work as a stand-alone, i.e. one does not necessarily need the UBS4 for comparison as the layperson could use Omanson in conjunction with an English (or other language) Bible translation; however, the inclusion of the rating system would have been most helpful.

Two more comparisons: 1) while Metzger’s book is `pocket-size’ (5 X 7.5 X .75 in. – the same h X w as the UBS4), Omanson’s is larger – about the size of an average textbook (6.25 X 9.375 X 1.375 in.); 2) Omanson’s is in larger font and on thicker, whiter paper making it easier to read – especially for those of us with aging eyes.

A minor criticism: the Greek font renders the kappa ( κ ) in such a way that it resembles the English letter x which causes me pause at times. My mind’s eye initially sees this as an English transliteration of xi ( ξ – which is transliterated as the English “x”). This is especially confusing with και which I initially see as (transliterated) xai. But, I note this font is similar to the BDAG.

Bottom line: this is a great reference for expounding on some of the reasons why one variant was chosen over another (or why the committee was unsure) in the UBS4. One can use this in lieu of the Metzger. Metzger is useful for those who are more versed in textual criticism and for those, like me, who have to strain to see the info in the UBS critical apparatus (“apparatus” is essentially the footnotes detailing the variances of the manuscripts) as this is sometimes replicated in Metzger’s edition in larger font (the UBS apparatus is not necessarily small in font but rather crammed with info, and with the thin paper there’s some bleed-through). However, for those who speak English as a second language, the Omanson will likely be the better choice. For the average layperson, Omanson’s work is more useful than Metzger’s in the way it translates all the Greek words into English and with the more simplified verbiage.

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