A Brief Word about Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

Comfort, Philip Wesley. A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2015. Pp. 443. Hardcover. $29.99.

I’ve had Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament for a few weeks now (I seem to have forgotten to do an “In the Mail” post when it arrived). In many ways it’s similar to Metzger’s volume, which has been a standard for quite some time. Aside from the physical similarities of the two volumes, Comfort, like Metzger, offers mostly pithy notes on variant readings that span anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph. The long notes can cover anywhere from a half page to a page and a half. I’ve not come across Comfort disagreeing with the decisions made by the UBS committee yet, but I’ve only skimmed the commentary at this point. I hope to find Comfort going in different directions at certain points and am interested to see his reasoning for doing so if he does.

The differences I’ve noted off the bat are in the introductions. Metzger’s volume has a brief introduction that talks about the history and transmission of the NT text, the criteria used in determining the best readings, and a list of some of the more important manuscript witnesses delineated according to text type. Comfort’s introductory material on the other hand spans two chapters. The first discusses the NT papyri, significant uncial manuscripts, a primer on assessing manuscripts in order to determine the text, a brief discussion of the canons (11 noted by Comfort) of NT textual criticism, and a healthy discussion of the Nomina Sacra in the NT (Comfort is quite interested in the Nomina Sacra as he mentions in the introduction and is evident throughout the commentary). The second chapter is a helpful annotated list of the manuscripts of the NT.

The most significant difference, however, is that Comfort’s commentary is on actual manuscripts rather than on an eclectic text. He says, “Most commentaries usually adhere to a certain English translation, and the commentators refer to an edition of the Greek New Testament (such as Novum Testamentum Graece or the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament), diverging from it when they deem it necessary. These two Greek editions (which have the same text) were compiled according to the eclectic method, which means that various readings from various manuscripts were selected for the text on a verse-by-verse basis. In this commentary readers will be reading commentary on actual manuscripts, such as P75 for most of the Gospel of Luke, P66 and P75 for the Gospel of John, P46 for nearly all of Paul’s Epistles and Hebrews, and so on” (7).

I was quite pleased to find him disagreeing with the Alands’ categorizations of some of the papyri, not because I necessarily disagree myself, but because it shows that Comfort is an independent and critical voice in the field. I did note that he doesn’t treat certain variants that Metzger did (e.g., Acts 8:24, 35), while commenting on some that Metzger didn’t (e.g., John 17:5, 16). I suppose this could be explained by Comfort’s focus on individual manuscripts and it seems that a lot of Comfort’s unique discussions are related to the Nomina Sacra whereas Metzger doesn’t focus on these at all. I’ve also noticed that after nearly every used of the phrase “nomen sacrum” Comfort puts the English translation “sacred name” in parentheses. It’s a curious and wholly unnecessary practice.

I’m also more than slightly perturbed by the lack of citations of the variants in Greek. Metzger’s commentary, for example, shows “Χριστου [υιου θεου] {C}” at Mark 1:1 and then proceeds to use the Greek term under discussion throughout the note. Comfort’s merely has “Jesus Christ” and then proceeds with the discussion using English translations (which are Comfort’s own) of the variant readings. I can’t understand the reasoning behind this decision through. Presumably this is a reference source intended for students of the Greek New Testament. It would be nice to have some Greek to read throughout the discussions.

But in all I think this will serve as a useful tool to supplement Metzger’s commentary rather than something that can replace it. They each serve a purpose and can be used in conjunction, which is what I plan to do.



2 thoughts on “A Brief Word about Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament

  1. Thanks for adding your thoughts on Comfort’s study. Not being a specialist I was intrigued by his comments on the “nomen sacrum” and was wondering how the textual critics would handle the importance he gives it. It was a new insight for me on how to determine if a scribe was a Christian or not.

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