Textual Optimism

In my previous post on Textual Optimism: A Critique of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament by Kent W. Clarke (part of the JSNT monograph series now edited by Stanley Porter), I summarized some of Clarke’s statistics on the general upgrade from D to C, C to B, and B to A in the variant rating system.

In my subsequent reading, Clarke has charged that the overall upgrade in textual quality is made even more stark because the letter rating definitions themselves were upgraded from the-glass-is-half-empty to the-glass-is-half-full.

Here are the UBS3 definitions:

  • {A} The text is virtually certain.
  • {B} There is some degree of doubt.
  • {C} There is a considerable degree of doubt.
  • {D} There is a very high degree of doubt.

Here are the UBS4 definitions:

  • {A} The text is certain.
  • {B} The text is almost certain.
  • {C} The editors had difficulty in deciding which variant to place in the text.
  • {D} The editors had great difficulty arriving at a decision.

Note that the majority of the UBS1-3 rating definitions were related to doubt while the UBS4 definitions are related to certainty. So you would actually expect some A’s in USB3 to go to B’s in UBS4, some B’s to C’s, and so on. Instead, you see the opposite. It’s almost as if the certainty of the editors’ choices got a double upgrade from UBS3 to UBS4.

Clarke is not saying we should ditch the UBS, or even the UBS4. He’s simply warning that the letter ratings should be used with caution and full knowledge—and he’s implicitly asking the committee in charge of the UBS to give a fuller explanation for their choices.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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