The Current Position
In many other areas of study the situation has developed comparatively rapidly in the past century. Sabatier's edition of the Old Latin remained a standard reference work for two centuries. Increasingly, however, it needed to be supplemented by reference to many editions of manuscripts subsequently discovered. These include several ancient fourth- century copies, of great interest. The foundation by the monks of Beuron, Baden-Württemberg, of the Vetus Latina Institüt made it possible to set about replacing Sabatier. Their edition of the materials not only provides the readings of the manuscripts, but also the text of thousands of citations from early Latin Christian writers. For good measure, the editors analysed the material, reconstructing the base texts represented by the manuscripts and citations. The most remarkable centre of all is the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster, Germany. Founded by Kurt Aland in 1959, and now under the directorship of Professor Barbara Aland, it has produced an extraordinary number of works that have become indispensable tools of the trade: catalogues of manuscripts, lexica, concordances, editions of Greek and versional manuscripts, lists of variant readings, editions of the Greek New Testament, textual studies. In addition, its collection of microfilms and photographs of Greek and versional manuscripts makes the Institute the world's centre for New Testament manuscript studies.
Collaborative work in the English-speaking world has been largely focused in the International Greek New Testament Project, a British and American venture founded in 1948. A detailed collection of variant readings from Luke's Gospel was published in 1984–7, and since then work on the Gospel of John has progressed steadily.
It thus becomes clear, not only that the earliest forms of the text of the gospels was very different to that known to later generations, but that in large parts of early Christianity, the gospels were less influential than the single harmonized version. The contrast with P75, the precursor of the Alexandrian Text produced only a generation after Tatian, is marked. And it is here that we are at a standstill, for we lack the materials to recover earlier forms of the text, and are still searching for a methodology to undertake the quest. The time has not yet come to despair. But the present barrier of the second century is as great as the Constantinian watershed proved a hundred years ago.
Meanwhile, the making of translations continues, and a number of materials have been prepared especially for this purpose. The United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, first published in 1966, is now in its fourth revised edition (1993). As well as full information about the variations in the text adjudged by its editors to be the most significant, it contains information about the punctuation adopted by various editors and translators. A companion volume produced by B. M. Metzger discusses the variants in the apparatus and gives the reasons why the editors selected the reading which they have printed in their text. This text is now identical with the most widely used edition, the Novum Testamentum Graece of the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung. This, known as Nestle–Aland from the names of past (Eberhard Nestle and then his son Edwin, followed by Kurt Aland) and present (Barbara Aland) editors, is now in its 27th edition. With the most comprehensive small apparatus criticus, in an up-to-date format, it undoubtedly provides the best working text for anyone studying the New Testament.
It is sometimes said that the comparatively few differences between Nestle–Aland and Westcott and Hort indicate that the papyri have had surprisingly little impact on the process of editing the text. However, this is partly because the process of evaluating the new materials is still under way. We do not know what changes the editors of the future will make, once the evidence of the papyri has been fully assimilated. It is also true to say that a single text (that of Nestle–Aland and the United Bible Societies) has become dominant. If one were to take into account other twentieth-century editions which are less widely used, the real complexity of the situation would become more apparent. For example, G. D. Kilpatrick produced most of an edition (A Greek English Diglot for the Use of Translators) which follows quite different principles. But it was abandoned by the British and Foreign Bible Society when they joined in the United Bible Societies venture. There is thus less uniformity than at first appears. The text of the New Testament has changed greatly since the time of Erasmus and his fellow pioneers. A late medieval text became a fourth-century one, and that in turn has at least in part become an even older one. What is to come is still unsure.