The fundamental inferiority of so called ‘critical’ editions, the difference between the text that the Orthodox Churches recognize as genuine, without even official proclamations, and the texts various scholars try to establish under this pompous term, as if the life and the tradition of the Church were uncritical, becomes apparent in the same way. Those who are supposed to care the most, ‘critical’ scholars, suffer a surprising carelessness. Is a method established in classical philology the right or the best one when we try to determine the biblical text?
In Platonic dialogues, for example, a ‘critical’ edition — even if research results sometime in a single and certain text — may have a priority, since Plato alone is the criterion of the genuineness of the text. If the criterion of authenticity lies in Church life, because the Church decided even the identity of the authors, only the Church can really discern the valid text, in a judgment that extends in centuries of a whole tradition of collective understanding.
‘Critical’ editions can contribute possible variations of meaning, perhaps even equally important alternative meanings — however, the text that is formed and shared in the tradition of the Church is always the most important and authoritative.
This doesn’t mean that the Church is continuously free of errors or that errors cannot persist even for centuries. History shows how such errors are traced in the Orthodox world.
Anyone may have objections, and in the course of time the common understanding of the Church realizes what to keep or change. This shared understanding is followed always, whether it finds a formal expression in synodic decisions or not. Differences suggested by ‘critical’ editions can be evaluated too and be accepted or rejected.
Here is an example of a significant difference between the text as formed in the tradition of the Orthodox Church and the text of a ‘critical’ edition. In the Gospel of Matthew (5, 22) πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ εἰκῆ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει (=everyone who is angry against a brother without reason will be found guilty in the Last Judgment). The ‘critical’ edition of Aland, Black, Martini, Metzger and Wikgren removes the adverb εἰκῆ (=without reason): everyone who is angry will be found guilty…
Accepting the ‘critical’ edition we have to infer that the distinction between bad and good anger does not belong to the first Gospel, being a later addition. This in itself, as we saw, is not a problem, if the ‘augmented’ version agrees with the common understanding of the Church — we are thinking now the importance of the meaning itself. The ‘critical’ edition prohibits absolutely a feeling that the text of the Orthodox Churches rejects only under certain conditions.
Conceding the hypothesis that an addition indeed occurred, the text established in the Orthodox Church can be judged according to literary criteria, according to its use by the Fathers of the Church, etc, — above all according to the traditional understanding of biblical truth. This way the Church perhaps will reject the adverb in the course of time.
As it is, the New Testament of the Orthodox Churches won’t remove anger completely from human life, only the absurd form of it, keeping anger as a rational force, a power that denies forcefully the dark self of a person. Will a saint never feel angry, for any reason whatever? Then Christ is not a saint, because He entered the synagogue and threw all the tables and idols all over the place, as Salinger notes in Franny and Zooey, reminding that the Son of God in the New Testament has nothing to do with syrupy figures of a constantly meek teacher or with the foul mildness rightly rejected by the hero of the novel Catcher in the Rye:
“I can’t even stand ministers. The ones they’ve had at every school I’ve gone to, they all have these Holy Joe voices when they start giving their sermons. God, I hate that. I don’t see why the hell they can’t talk in their natural voice. They sound so phony when they talk.”
It would be a contradiction to adopt uncritically the ‘critical’ editions, the claim that they offer a reliable version — even if they agree sometime with each other on a single text. They can’t enjoy greater authenticity than the original New Testament used in the Greek–speaking Orthodox Churches, approved by community life and a whole tradition that starts in the first churches of the Apostolic period and reaches without interruption to our days.
However, one should care mainly about what Paul says (Cor. I, 2, 15) — personal thinking is not to be replaced by the authority of any text whatever.
In the absence of personal thinking all texts become useless, while thinking as formed in the experience of the Holy Spirit is able to suggest the truthfulness of a particular text without external support. Even beyond this, one must not forget that in ideal conditions the Bible is absolutely useless: how could have ever existed time or reason for reading, if a person’s mind always kept the greatest possible contact with God?
The New Testament Canon was formed to support the memory of the Church, like when we try to keep and strengthen our memory of a friend by reading letters, seeing photographs, etc: it is a body of texts / testimonies for the Incarnation of Christ and the life of the first churches. However, it is not a picture of some distant past: it contributes to the contact with the heart and living truth of the present time, it regards our constant spiritual birthday.
The New Testament is a precious collection of personal memories, a book that is active even when closed, since it heals a mind even if only in the awareness that it contains something so close to a beloved person as His words, His Disciples, emotions, thoughts and wishes. A Church is not a remote audience, we are close to Him getting even closer day by day — to the most real self of ours, to the relationship that defines each of us personally in and beyond any other relationship.
On this foundational understanding of the New Testament as a Place, where we arrive expecting a great help in order to recover memories of our most intimate relationship and genuine existence, intermediate developments may occur too, attempts to think on religious problems, etc.
It is great to open the Bible having specific questions each time to ask, this way gaining a singular strength and inspiration in our reading. Two or three chapters each day can also offer a sort of refreshment, just to breathe the biblical spirit, sometimes before sleep, even to find a phrase to end our day with, to invite its Meaning in our dreams.
Whatever the way one may prefer in reading the Bible, the urge of the Orthodox Liturgy remains always important: Wisdom upright let us listen! The Holy Book reveals its most essential value only when a mind is elevated beyond any particular question and answer.
I would have respected the traditional formation of paragraphs, if one existed, but it does not, perhaps because manuscripts are divided only by chapters. Of course, grammar, syntax, vocabulary and any other aspect of the text is the one used by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (1904/12 edition) and all Greek–speaking Orthodox Churches, as corrected by the Church of Greece.
The present edition aims at personal study, which is the reason of using a relatively large typeface contrary to pocket editions that facilitate reading in the liturgy (something rather uncommon in Orthodox Churches), when one needs to stand up. Delenda are enclosed in [brackets,] but there is no reason for passages finally accepted, even after some doubt, to be printed in different font size or in any way marked and suffer some suspicion.