Which Greek Biblical Text is Best for Students

by Jay Rhoden

The Greek text of the New Testament is available from a lot of different sources, and just like our English translations, there are subtle differences in the text. Here we will summarize the main types, and then consider which one is best for a student.

Initially the New Testament would have been read and distributed primarily in Koine Greek, although there are other very early translations into different ancient languages. The Old Testament existed primarily in Hebrew and in Greek. A Christian would have used the Hebrew or Greek depending on which language they were comfortable with, and what they had available. The Hebrew and Greek would have co-existed in many places.

In 382A.D. Jerome (of Stridon) was commissioned by the Church to create a Latin translation for Latin speaking readers. There was some debate as to whether the Latin Old Testament should be based upon the Hebrew or the Greek text, Jerome chose to base his text upon the Hebrew text. Following on from this, some churches would have used Latin as their primary bible translation, but the Greek speaking churches would continue to use the Greek text. The Greek text used by the early church became known as the “Byzantine Text”, and a form of this text is still used in Greek speaking churches today.

Now lets consider the Latin text. Fast forward from when Jerome created the Latin translation into the 1500’s and the time of the church reformation. It was in the 1500’s that the protestant churches began to split from the Catholic church. At this time, regular people could not read Latin, and the reformers wanted to make the Bible available to all people. Erasmus decided to create his own edition of the Greek text. Erasmus created and published his own Greek text based on the earliest and oldest Greek New Testament manuscripts he had available. Because there were minor textual variants between each Greek manuscript Erasmus had access to, he was forced to make critical decisions between which Greek words and phrases to include in his own Greek printed edition. This effort resulted in a Greek text that was slightly different to the Greek text used in Greek churches today. Thus there are two main Greek text types in existent today. The ‘Byzantine’ form, and the ‘Critical’ text form.

Following on from this, newer and more ancient manuscripts have been discovered. This has resulted in amendments to Erasmus’ original Critical text. Bible Societies have created what we now know as the UBS text (United Bible Society) and the NA text (Nestle Aland). The Greek content of these two versions are effectively identical. Most Greek texts at a Christian book shop will be a NA or UBS text. Although it is possible to find versions based on the Byzantine text, and even a Greek text which contains the Greek text the NIV translators chose to be authoritative—an NIV Greek text.

So which version should a student use? If you are taking a Biblical Greek class, It is a little more convenient to use the same Greek text that your teacher uses or recommends. However, if your main goal is to simply learning to read Biblical Greek it really does not matter which version you use—any version is better than no version. On this site we have the Byzantine, and an older (copyright free) version of the critical text, this enables us to share and distribute the Biblical Text free to everyone without any restriction. If we were forced to choose one over the other, we would recommend, for the purpose of self study, that you use the Byzantine form, simply because the Byzantine form contains most of the so called ‘missing verses’, which means you can choose for yourself to read (or skip over) the ‘missing verses’.