The word “virtual” means that a thing “is so in essence or effect, although not formally or actually.”1 Thus, the Greek New Testament (GNT) that a scholar pulls off the shelf is a modern construct comprised of readings derived from over 5000 ancient manuscripts, which have been critically compared to each other and evaluated in order to determine what the original author’s copy (the autograph) of an ancient manuscript might have read, according to the scholars who made the GNT. Our modern GNT never existed as such in antiquity in any one gathering of ancient manuscripts. It exists only virtually in that its readings are from different ancient manuscripts. There can be any number of GNT since different groups of scholars evaluate the data differently.
Frequently translations of the GNT used by translators differ from the critical text they are translating. Luke 22:42-45, the prayer of Jesus on the Mount of Olives, is one such example: Verses 43-44, however, are omitted by the Revised Standard Version and an American Translation, both of which read:
“Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will but thine, be done.” And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow. (RSV, Luke 22:42, 45)
The following translations, however, include verses 42-43 in their translations: New International Version, James Moffat translation, New American Bible, The Berkeley Version, the New Living Translation:
“Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. (NIV, Luke 22:42-45)
The Nestle/Aland text (28th revised edition of the GNT) includes Luke 22:42-43 in the text in double square brackets. Double square brackets indicate that the enclosed words are thought not to be a part of the original text, but they are rather very early insertions into the text. The rationale of the Editorial Committee that established the Nestle/Aland GNT was as follows: The absence of these verses in ancient and widely diversified manuscripts, as well as their being marked with asterisks and obeli (signifying spuriousness) by scribes in other manuscripts, and their having been transferred to Matthew’s Gospel (after 26:39) in a few manuscripts strongly suggests that they were not part of the original text of Luke. The presence of Luke 22:43-44 in many manuscripts, some ancient, and as well as their citation by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Eusebius, and many other Fathers of the church is proof of their antiquity. The Committee did not think it probable that the two verses were deleted by scribes who felt that the account of Jesus being overwhelmed with human weakness was incompatible with their belief that he shared the divine omnipotence of the Father. The Committee thought it more probable that they were added to Luke from an early source, oral or written, of extra canonical traditions. In view of the evident antiquity of the two verses and their importance to the textual tradition a majority of the committee decided to retain the words in the text but to enclose them in double square brackets.2
Specifically, how is the GNT a virtual text? The readings of the original author’s copy, the autograph, may exist somewhere among some 5000 Greek manuscripts dating 3rd century3 and later, but the best that scholars can do is make an intelligent guess at what the autograph might be, based on reason and logic. As this instance shows, however, even logic and reason are sometimes unable to achieve a definitive solution. One cannot look at the apparatus4 of the GNT without recognizing the relative value of the scholarly reconstructions and the challenge they present to the popular epithet of the New Testament, that it is the Word of God.Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1Oxford English Dictionary, Compact Edition, s.v., virtual (4th definition).
2This description is adapted from Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th ed. rev.; United Bible Societies, 2000), 151.
3There are a few manuscripts dated 2nd century: P52 (John 18:31-33. 37-38); P90 (John 18:36-19:1; 19:2-7); P77 (Matt 23:30-39); P98(?) (Rev 1:13-21); P104 (Matt 21:34-37; 21-43-45 [?]); *0189 (Acts 5:3-21). Two of these are dated 2nd/3rd century: P77; *0189.
4The apparatus of the GNT is the data listed at the bottom of the page noting the significant differences in readings between the ancient manuscripts.