The Nestle-Aland as Open Digital Edition: Already and Not Yet

Gregory S. Paulson

I. Introduction: The Digital Nestle-Aland

Last year at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (San Diego, 2019) Claire Clivaz asked an interesting question during the Q&A portion after my paper on the history of the Nestle-Aland: “When will there be a digital Nestle-Aland?” For anyone not in the field of biblical studies, the Nestle-Aland (NA) is a printed hand edition of the Greek New Testament with an apparatus of variant readings of manuscripts. It was first published in 1898 by the Bible Society in Stuttgart and edited by Eberhard Nestle. Later it was edited by Kurt Aland, the founder of the Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF), and is currently in its 28th edition (NA28). It is now edited by a committee of scholars and has become one of the most widely used critical editions of the Greek New Testament in the world. The 28th edition was published in 2012 and therein a promise was made: “…for now on the Nestle-Aland will not appear only as a printed book, but also in digital form.” [1] Since the editors did not elaborate on what they meant by “digital form,” we can interpret it in several ways. [2] If a simple PDF was meant, then this is now available from the German Bible Society. [3] If a module for Logos [4] or Accordance [5] Bible software was meant, this is also now available from these companies, with which one can perform complex word searches and look up cross references among other things. A digital edition of the NA for the suite of free applications available for various platforms including Android, Apple iOS, Mac, Windows, and Linux—all under the banner The SWORD Project—was created by Troy Griffitts and Ulrich Schmid. The SWORD Project is part of The Crosswire Bible Society, but the digital edition of the NA was released by the German Bible Society in 2019. [6] Here you can click on a manuscript in the apparatus (Figure 1) and be brought to transcriptions and manuscript images on the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR) (Figure 2), which is a virtual research environment hosted by the INTF at the University of Münster. [7]

Figure 1: Text and Apparatus from the SWORD Project
Figure 2: List of witnesses for a given passage from the SWORD Project

On The SWORD Project you can also pull up graphs that visualize the flow of variants from manuscript to manuscript (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Variant Flow Chart from the SWORD Project

For the time being, these three formats—the PDF, Bible software, and The SWORD Project—are the most direct options to access the NA and its apparatus digitally. But obviously there are other ways to make the NA into more of an interactive digital edition and to equip it with options for personal customization.

To take Klaus Wachtel’s idea of an open digital edition, expressed in his 2017 Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (SNTS) paper, three elements should be manifested in an edition to reach its digital potential:

The leap forward brought to editing by the digital media is the potential

  1. to access the evidence live which is hidden behind the sigla in a printed critical apparatus;
  2. to document the procedures and criteria applied by the editors to construct the apparatus and to reconstruct the initial text;
  3. to discuss the assessments and decisions of the editors in a forum related to the edition and process them interactively in an individual workspace. [8]
If we apply these three elements to the resources just mentioned, we can immediately see why the currently available products are not ideal. The PDF offers the least digital innovation, and even word searches may not produce accurate results. The PDF gives us no more information than what is in the printed edition. The Bible software modules offer much more reliable search results than a PDF and also offer parsing of Greek words among other things, but still no more information about the Greek manuscript tradition or apparatus is offered than what is already in the printed edition.
The SWORD Project, however, is the most innovative of these and comes closest to a digital edition where text-critical work can be carried out. But there are some draw backs. At first sight, a phone is not normally where in-depth research is conducted; if the software were integrated directly into the NTVMR, it could become a widely used research tool (cf. n. 8). Second, the transcriptions that The SWORD Project brings you to in the NTVMR are not necessarily the same transcriptions that the NA is based on (except for the Catholic Letters, discussed in the following); the collations the NA is based on were primarily done in the 1960s and 70s on paper and will never make their way to a digital format. And third, we are missing important editorial explanations so it is difficult to check and assess the work of the editors. Metzger’s Textual Commentary does offer some insight into the editorial decision-making process behind the related edition—the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament—but this can only be indirectly applied to the NA. [9] For the NA we are missing, for example, clear criteria for the selection of consistently cited manuscripts or clear criteria for the citation of versions and patristic sources. Thus The SWORD Project app does not fit easily into Wachtel’s three hallmarks of the ideal open digital edition.
These digital products cannot be blamed for failing to meet the high demands of an open digital edition. The information needed to access the NA in this way is simply not available. [10] To create an open digital edition of the NA, the transcriptions, versional data, and patristic citations, for example, would have to be re-created and entered into a digital database. But the road to an open digital edition of the NA is not a dead end. The NA is now adopting the results of a major critical edition, the ECM (Editio Critica Maior), which is foremost a digital edition of the Greek New Testament. [11] The ECM is based on full digital transcriptions of manuscripts, which includes extensive versional and patristic evidence in the apparatus. Its editors have established the initial text anew using the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), a stemmatological approach. [12] All the components of this edition are digital, which actually makes it first and foremost a digital edition, with the printed copy being a selection and re-organization of digital data. [13]
As of now, only the ECM volumes of the Catholic Letters and Acts have been published, Mark will be ready in 2021, and more volumes will follow. The text of the ECM of the Catholic Letters was adopted in the NA28, which means in the NTVMR you can actually check full transcriptions behind the witnesses cited in the apparatus of the Catholic Letters in the NA. The other portions of the NA28 were not updated on the basis of new transcriptions, but have remained essentially the same since the NA26 of 1979. This means we are only in the beginning stages of realizing an open digital edition of the NA28 for the Catholic Letters. However, there is not a single program that pulls all the different digital aspects of the ECM of the Catholic Letters into a single domain: there is no digital apparatus, so finding images and transcriptions must be done manually by searching for each manuscript in the NTVMR, then finding the right page of the manuscript to see its transcription. The CBGM for the Catholic Letters, which records the assessments of the editorial committee, is only accessible through a different website altogether. [14] Thus, the major elements are not combined into a digital edition for the Catholic Letters, but there are plans to do this at the INTF.

II. Steps to an Open Digital Edition: the dECM

The good news is that such an all-in-one digital edition for the ECM (dECM) of Acts does exist, offering a digital apparatus with transcriptions at the click of a button as well as direct access to the CBGM for Acts. [15] The text of the ECM of Acts will be adopted in the NA29, due out in a couple of years. The cooperation between the editors of the ECM and the editors of the NA has led to a fortunate byproduct: users of the NA will be able to check the information in the apparatus and see the sources behind the text via the dECM.
I will now demonstrate how the dECM of Acts will be relevant for the NA, that is, as soon as the 29th edition appears with the text of Acts. After that, I will explain how users can create their own “NA” and other projects in the NTVMR.

On the NTVMR, the dECM page ( defaults to Acts (because so far only Acts is available as a dECM edition). There are a lot of options here. [16] Like The SWORD Project app, clicking on a manuscript, e.g. 181, will bring up its transcription and provide further options for digital images (Figure 4).

Figure 4: User interface of the dECM

This offers a whole new way to explore manuscripts in context rather than having to piece together citations scattered throughout a printed apparatus. [17] The transcriptions in the NTVMR for these manuscripts in Acts are the full transcriptions that were used in the ECM; consequently any mistakes in the apparatus of the ECM will also be found in the NTVMR transcriptions. When a mistake is noticed, it is corrected in the digital transcription here.

In addition, users have several databases at their fingertips. The ones labeled PatCit, VL, and VC contain the data behind Patristic citations, Latin, and Coptic, respectively, in the ECM (Figure 5). The other databases offer additional tools for research, which is the result of collaboration with other researchers.

Figure 5: Databases available in the dECM
1. CopCitV and CopCitCh are databases of Sahidic Coptic citations that have been sourced from various editions. These databases were created by the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament. [18]
2. The Bibles link brings you to where users can select multiple editions of the Bible for comparison in parallel columns. The Greek texts here provide parsing when you click on a word.
3. The PatCit link brings the user to New Testament Patristic Citations, where details of each patristic citation in the ECM of Acts are provided (Figure 6). [19] The major advantages of this database is that users can now see information normally not provided in the apparatus of printed editions, namely which work of the author the citation is from and the full context of the quote.
Figure 6: The dECM’s Patristic citations database

4. The VL link brings users to full transcriptions of Old Latin manuscripts cited in the ECM of Acts (Figure 7). The University of Mainz prepared these transcriptions and kindly allowed them to be used in the ECM of Acts.

Figure 7: Database of transcriptions of Latin Manuscripts in the dECM

5. The VC link brings the user to full transcriptions of all Coptic witnesses used in the ECM (Figure 8). [20]

Figure 8: The dECM’s Database of Coptic citations
6. The final link, the Amsterdam Database of New Testament Conjectural Emendation, gives the user a fascinating look into the history of all known conjectures made by scholars throughout the history of printed Greek New Testaments. [21]
Since the next edition of the NA will adopt the results of the ECM of Acts, transcriptions of Greek manuscripts for Acts, versional, and patristic data can be accessed on the NTVMR and will be just as relevant for the ECM as for the NA29. This fulfills the wish of being able to check the live data behind the citations.

Besides images and transcriptions, the NTVMR also offers access to decisions made by the editorial committee of the ECM. In the dECM, the user can go to any verse in Acts and see the local stemma of texts that the editors have established for a given passage by clicking on the circle with an arrow, [22] which brings the user to the Genealogical Queries portal (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Where to view local stemma and coherence in the dECM
For example, Acts 1:1/26 (Figure 10).
Figure 10: Genealogical Queries

In the field labeled Apparatus, we see there are three variant readings (the manuscripts cited for zz are not included in this passage): (a) ιησους, (b) κυριους, and (c) υιος. In the field labeled Local Stemma, editors’ decisions are visible: variant a is the established text (the Ausgangstext), and variants b and c come from a. (There are more fields to see on this page below but they are related to the editorial method used in the ECM, the CBGM, which is discussed at length in other publications.) [23] Because the editors of the NA have agreed to adopt the results of the ECM, the local stemmata for the ECM can also be applied to the NA. This fulfills the second element on our wishlist for a digital edition, being able to check and assess editorial procedures.

There is also a textual commentary for a selection of Acts passages, e.g. Acts 1:6/10. Clicking on the speech bubble takes the user to the commentary (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Where to find the textual commentary

The commentary explains why the editors made a textual decision. Users can reply to the textual commentary or pose their own question where there is no existing commentary, which will open up a new discussion (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Textual commentary

This forum offers users an opportunity for discussion with the editors of the ECM. Similarly, there is a forum for the NA on the NTVMR (, and the German Bible Society also fields questions on their site (

So, these are the options for digital editions of the NA in a nutshell. For the Catholic Letters users can access full transcriptions of witnesses on the NTVMR and on a different website they can see the CBGM. [24] After the ECM of Acts is adopted in the NA29, full transcriptions of what lies behind the ECM apparatus in Acts will be relevant for users of the NA, as well as the option to view results of editorial decisions in local stemmata, discuss the textual decisions, and explore extensive databases.
But for those who do not want to wait until each book of the New Testament has had an ECM, it is possible to see manuscript collations for other books of the New Testament, which leads to the final part of my discussion: a walkthrough of digital editing on the NTVMR.

III. Digital Editing on the NTVMR: Unedited Realtime Collation [25]

Taking digital editions to the next step would mean allowing users to become editors and enable them to ask their own questions of the source material. What if they want a collation compared to a different base text than the ECM or NA28? Users can, for example, take all the manuscripts in the NA and compare them against a late Byzantine manuscript. Or if they want to see where the NA manuscripts disagree where there is no apparatus unit in the edition itself, the collation results in the NTVMR offer a full listing of differences, not limited to only the variation units in the NA or ECM. If users want to see an apparatus with manuscripts other than what is already in these editions, they can, for example, make their own selection of three, or five, or hundreds of manuscripts and see how just these differ from each other. If they want to jettison the ECM and NA altogether and make a baseless collation, they can compare just the manuscripts they want without a base text. All of this is now possible through an open edition of the Greek New Testament on the NTVMR. This can be turned into an edition of the NA or whatever your project calls for.

When using the dECM website, click on the Unedited Realtime Collation tab to begin creating your own edition (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Unedited realtime collation

By default you see an automatic collation of all the New Testament papyri (up to P128), many majuscules, and a few minuscules against the NA28 [26] (this base text is labeled as ECM). [27] In the NTVMR, transcriptions are created in an editor developed by the University of Trier. [28] CollateX, a software component that is used to construct critical apparatuses, [29] is a core component used to provide the “realtime” collation. [30] The transcriptions are sent to CollateX and this results in the Unedited Realtime Collation. (ITSEE’s apparatus editor is used primary to produce the edited non-realtime apparatus on the ECM tab.) Because the Unedited Realtime Collation produces an unedited collation, the initial results are not always perfect. See for example the automatic result of Mk 1:2 (Figure 14).

Figure 14: Unedited realtime collation without rules

But all of this can be perfected and the program is customizable. The NTVMR lets a user add rules before sending the data to CollateX and re-collate to see the result of those rules. After taking the necessary steps (explained below), the collation can look like the results in Figure 15. [31]

Figure 15: Unedited realtime collation with user rules applied

C. Customization: Here are the options for customization (Figure 16).

Figure 16: Customization fields in unedited realtime collation
1. Witness list
Create your own witness list in Manuscript Workspace by clicking on Active List and then + Add New List (Figure 17). [32]
Figure 17: Create witness list
You will be prompted to name the new list and then populate it by searching for manuscripts in the NTVMR [33] and clicking on the star to add them; you now have your witness list. If you want to include the consistently cited witnesses for a particular book in the NA, you need to look these up in the introduction to the NA to see which witnesses are cited and then just mark these with a star in your virtual list. But, as explained above, unless you are viewing the Catholic Letters, the transcriptions are not the same ones used in the NA28, though they should be very similar of course.
2. Base text
You can use anything that has a transcription in the NTVMR for a base text.
3. Regularization Rules
Regularization Rules are any customizations you have made to orthography or other spellings, as well as adjustments to collations (the latter is explained below in Show Alignment Table). After you make your own rules, the setting should be changed to Personal; otherwise your rules will not appear.
4. Ignore Options
You also have the option to include or exclude punctuation, brackets, underdots, and accents in the transcriptions.
5. Which Transcriptions
A benefit of using the NTVMR is the availability of many transcriptions. The option “Always Use Published” will give you what was used for the ECM volumes. Every manuscript used for the ECM of Acts has transcriptions available, as well as some of the well-known manuscripts such as Codex Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Bezae, and some papyri which have transcriptions available for the whole New Testament (where they are extant). Another advantage of using the NTVMR is that if you disagree with a transcription it is possible to change it yourself and then select “Prefer mine if present.” With this setting, any transcription you have done will be present (as long as you have selected this manuscript in your witness list, see step 1 above). Thus, this can enable you to conduct fresh research based on your own work.
6. Include Extra Verses
Sometimes sense units or variants span more than one verse. With the option to include extra verses, one to four verses can be added to the beginning and end of a given verse for collation.
7. Show Alignment Table
The alignment table is where fine-tuning of the automatic collation takes place. The collation will not automatically resemble the variant units in the NA. As a default, the collations are divided into one-word units. By selecting a beginning and end of a unit in the alignment table, a “parallel segmentation rule” can be set that will now combine these words into one unit (this can be thought of as a variation unit). [34] If you wanted, you can set the words together to resemble the variation units in the NA.

Any misaligned or problematic collations can be fixed here. Take for example the incorrect word split in L2211: γε and γραπται in Mk 1:2 (Figure 18).

Figure 18: Alignment table

This can be fixed on the Collation page, which can be found in the side menu. [35] Once you are in the Collation tool, on the right side of the window select the verse you want to work on. Then click on the Witness Lists tab and scroll down to select your preferred list. Now on the right column, select Use Witness List for Collation.

Go to the Witnesses tab and then on Graph inside of the Collate box (Figure 19). [36]

Figure 19: Collation page tools

Click and drag to move the graph or zoom in or out. A close-up of the resulting graph shows the problematic collation (Figure 20):

Figure 20: Collation graph

After you click on the pen icon in the top left corner, the graph becomes interactive, meaning you can now click and drag words together to combine them. After dragging two units together, you will be prompted to set the unit how you would like (Figure 21). [37]

Figure 21: Combine nodes

Refresh the dECM page in your browser to see the results of your work on the Collate page.

Words that are incorrectly joined together can also be split in the interactive graph. For example, GA 28 in Mark 1:6 reads “αυτουκαι.” Click and drag either the preceding or following word onto αυτουκαι. You will be prompted to input the correct segmentation (Figure 22).

Figure 22: Create nodes

This process can be repeated until you get the desired collation for your project.

8. Show Variant Graph
This was briefly mentioned as it pertains to the Collation page, but in the Unedited Realtime Collation page, the Variant Graph is not editable. It offers a static visual diagram of the flow of segmentation units for each manuscript.
9. Download CSV
Finally, the Alignment Table can be downloaded.

And that is the basics of building and customizing an edition.

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, while some options are currently available for the NA as a digital edition, a full, open digital edition of the entire New Testament will not exist until every volume of the ECM has been adopted by the NA. I have discussed how the NA29 will be able to be viewed through the dECM for the book of Acts, how various tools can be utilized to access the NA28 for the Catholic Letters, and how to create your own edition of the Greek New Testament using the editing software in the NTVMR so that you do not have to wait until the ECM is finished for all books of the New Testament.
All of these resources on the NTVMR are continually being improved and developed. What is most needed are more transcriptions (with quality control) along with high resolution digital images. More research tools should be integrated into the NTVMR, such as the CBGM or new databases (e.g. Arabic citations). [38] And of course more presentations to equip users with the necessary skills to make the most of the NTVMR platform would also be helpful, which is what I have intended here. [39]
One final observation about the NTVMR is that none of this would be possible without international collaboration. Editing tools have been integrated from various developers, such as the collation editing program from ITSEE in Birmingham and the CollateX program from the international team headed by Ronald Haentjens Dekker and Gregor Middell. Not only are many of the transcriptions done by volunteers around the world, but the software and databases represent work done in Germany, England, Netherlands, and America, among other places. At the INTF, we are very grateful for the hard work and diligence of these scholars and students who continue to help make the vision of an open digital edition a reality.


Allen, G. V. 2020. “Monks, Manuscripts, Muhammad, and Digital Editions of the New Testament.” In From Scrolls to Scrolling: Sacred Texts, Materiality, and Dynamic Media Cultures, ed. Bradford A. Anderson, 181–211. Berlin.
Clivaz, C. 2011. “The New Testament at the Time of the Egyptian Papyri: Reflections Based on P12, P75 and P126 (P.AMH. 3B, P.BOD. XIV–XV AND PSI 1497).” In Reading New Testament Papyri in Context, ed. Claire Clivaz and Jean Zumstein, 15–55. Leuven.
———. 2017. “Die Bibel im digitalen Zeitalter Multimodale Schriften in Gemeinschaften.” Zeitschrift für Neues Testament 39/40:35–57.
———. 2020. “New Testament and Digital Humanities.” Verkündigung und Forschung 65(2):98–104.
Griffitts, T. A. 2017. “Software for the Collaborative Editing of the Greek New Testament.” PhD diss., University of Birmingham.
Kiel, N. 2019. “How Patristic Citations are Treated in the ECM.” INTF Blog.
Krans, J. 2005. “NA27 in SESB 1.0: A First Look.” TC 11.
Metzger, B. M. 1994. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. Stuttgart.
Mink, M. 2009. “The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) – Introductory Presentation.” Release 1.0. Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung website.
NA28 = H. Strutwolf, L. Herren, M.-L. Lakmann, B. von Tishischwitz, and K. Wachtel. 2012. Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. 28th ed. Stuttgart.
Nurry, E., and E. Spadini. 2020. “From Giant Despair to a New Heaven: The Early Years of Automatic Collation.” Information Technology 62(2):61–73.
Paulson, G. S. 2018. “How to View Greek New Testament Manuscripts in the VMR.” INTF Blog.
Richter, S. 2019. “Versio Coptica Online.” INTF Blog.
Smith, C. 2019. “Old Wine, New Wineskins: Digital Tools for Editing the New Testament.” In The Future of New Testament Textual Scholarship: From H. C. Hoskier to the Editio Critica Maior and Beyond, ed. Garrick V. Allen, 407–434. Tübingen.
Wachtel, K. 2017. “The Digital Present and Future of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the New Testament.” Paper presented in the Textual Criticism Seminar at the General Meeting of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas. Pretoria.
———. 2018. “An Interactive Textual Commentary of Acts.” INTF Blog.
———. 2019. “The Development of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), its Place in Textual Scholarship, and Digital Editing.” In The Future of New Testament Textual Scholarship: From H. C. Hoskier to the Editio Critica Maior and Beyond, ed. Garrick V. Allen, 435–446. Tübingen.
Warwick, C. 2012. “Studying users in digital humanities.” In Digital Humanities in Practice, ed. C. Warwick, M. Terras, and J. Nyhan, 1–22. London.


[ back ] 1. NA28, 48*. See also Clivaz 2011:30n83.
[ back ] 2. The first electronic critical apparatuses of biblical editions were actually published as early as 2004. These were for the NA27 and the BHS. See Krans 2005.
[ back ] 7. For the history of the founding of the NTVMR and its initial development see Griffitts 2017, esp. 49–56, 76–86.
[ back ] 8. Wachtel 2017.
[ back ] 9. Metzger 1994.
[ back ] 10. Clivaz also suggests that the German Bible Society should make the apparatus of the NA open access, otherwise they run the risk of other freely available apparatuses, of varying scholarly standards, eventually replacing theirs for free tools. Clivaz 2017:50.
[ back ] 11. For an overview of the digital workflow of the ECM see Wachtel 2017 and Smith 2019.
[ back ] 12. Cf. Wachtel 2019.
[ back ] 13. Cf. Wachtel 2017.
[ back ] 14. See Genealogical Queries 2.0,
[ back ] 15. See Clivaz 2020:103.
[ back ] 16. On the topic of user interface see Warwick 2012.
[ back ] 17. For a discussion of how printed editions abstract the original medium of manuscripts, see Allen 2020.
[ back ] 18. See here for more information:
[ back ] 19. For more information on patristic evidence in the ECM, see Kiel 2019.
[ back ] 20. For more information about Coptic citations in the ECM, see Richter 2019.
[ back ] 21. See here for more information:
[ back ] 22. For an explanation of how to use the dECM see Wachtel 2018.
[ back ] 23. See in particular the online presentation Mink 2009.
[ back ] 24. Cf. n. 13 above.
[ back ] 25. See Griffitts 2017: chapter 6 for an explanation of Unedited Realtime Collation.
[ back ] 26. This default group is the selection of manuscripts that was used for INTF NT Transcripts.
[ back ] 27. See Griffitts 2017:237–247, for an overview of collations in the NTVMR.
[ back ] 28. Kompetenzzentrum Trier, “Workspace for Collaborative Editing: Entwicklung einer digitalen Arbeitsumgebung,”
[ back ] 29. For more on CollateX see
[ back ] 30. For an overview of the history of automatic collation see Nury 2020.
[ back ] 31. For this example I created a witness list that comprises all of the consistently cited manuscripts for the Gospel of Mark in the NA28 (cf. NA28, 62*) and mimicked the variant units of the apparatus in the NA28.
[ back ] 32. Manuscript Workspace can be found here:
[ back ] 33. See Paulson 2018 on how to search for manuscripts in the NTVMR.
[ back ] 34. The term “parallel segmentation rule” here should not be confused with TEI parallel segmentation.
[ back ] 35. The Collation page can be found here:
[ back ] 36. There was initial collaboration with Joris van Zundert and Tara Andrews in the creation of what has become the variant graph. Cf. Griffitts 2017:42.
[ back ] 37. The double parentheses tells the regularizer that it needs to keep two tokens together and not split them up into individual words. The double parentheses are only necessary if there is more than one word.
[ back ] 38. Cf. Griffitts’s Virtual Manuscript Room Collaborative Research Environment:
[ back ] 39. Cf. also table under “Roadmap for the development of an open digital edition (ODE)” in Wachtel 2017.