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Kurt Aland, FBA (28 March 1915 – 13 April 1994) was a German theologian and biblical scholar who specialized in New Testament textual criticism. He founded the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (Institute for New Testament Textual Research) in Münster and served as its first director from 1959–83. He was one of the principal editors of Nestle-Aland – Novum Testamentum Graece for the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.
The Life of Kurt Aland
Aland was born in Berlin-Steglitz. He started studying theology in 1933 at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin (he also studied philology, archaeology, and history). On 23 March that year, he was examined before the Bruderrat (council of brothers) in the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church). During his studies, he worked for the journal of the Confessing Church, Junge Kirche (Young Church). In an ideological brochure, Wer fälscht? (Who is lying?), written against Mathilde Ludendorff, he confirmed the position of the Confessing Church and identified with them. In 1939 he studied for his bachelor’s degree under the guidance of Hans Lietzmann. In 1940 he was released from military service; and in 1941, after Lietzmann’s death, he took over the responsibilities of editing the Theologische Literaturzeitung (the only German theological magazine at that time). He graduated that same year, and in 1944 was ordained as a minister of the parish of Berlin-Steglitz.
After World War II, Aland became a lecturer on the theological faculty of the Humboldt University of Berlin. In 1947 he was appointed professor ordinarius in Halle (Saale).
Aland disapproved of the Marxist government of East Germany, and was persecuted as a result. In 1953, he was accused of smuggling watches to West Berlin and was kept under arrest for three months. Aland frequently spoke out against various forms of state oppression directed at churches, and also demanded freedom of speech in East Germany. In July 1958, he lost his job at the university. However, in September of that year, he successfully escaped to West Berlin. His 8000-volume library was incorporated into the University Library.
In 1958, he became a professor at the University of Münster, Germany. Aland rejected a professorship of the University of Chicago in 1960. In Münster he founded the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (“Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung”) in 1959, which he directed until 1983. Furthermore, he founded the world’s first “Bible Museum” in 1979, which was unique in the world for many years. His institute achieved worldwide recognition by publishing the Nestle-Aland – Novum Testamentum Graece and The Greek New Testament for the United Bible Societies.
Aland was married twice. His first marriage was to Ingeborg Aland (they had three children together). In 1972 he married Barbara Aland. He died in Münster, Germany in 1994.
Kurt Aland was representative of increasing specialism within theological-historical studies. In the field of New Testament research, his work (and also the work that he did together with his wife Barbara Aland in the Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster) is internationally acclaimed.
The focus of his work began as an intense and adventurous search for old manuscripts on several expeditions to abbeys in Russia and Greece (amongst others). He discovered numerous manuscripts of the New Testament, whose evaluation is still in progress. Most notable among his work was the newly arranged edition of Novum Testamentum Graece (Greek New Testament) in 1979 (also called Nestle-Aland). This textual foundation for the New Testament exemplifies a scholarly mentality aimed at achieving the highest possible convergence with the “original text.”
Furthermore, he acted in the Hermann-Kunst-Stiftung, which was founded in 1964 by Hermann Kunst, a good friend of Aland. Many important figures within politics and economics participated in the sponsorship of the Institute for New Testament Textual Research.
Another priority in his life was church history, being concerned with the early church, the Reformation, and movements such as pietism and revivalism.
Aland received critical acclaim for his profundity and comprehensive knowledge of the textual sources for the New Testament. His contemporary presence is relevant, having contributed to modern scientific methodology. Aland was of the opinion that every work within historical research stands on its adherence to reliability and accessibility.
The archives (Nachlass) of Kurt Aland are provided in the University Archives of the University of Münster, Germany.
History of the Nestle-Aland Edition
It seems best to allow the German Bible Society and the Institute for New Testament Textual Research to tell their own history:
In 1898, Eberhard Nestle published the first edition of his Novum Testamentum Graece. Based on a simple yet ingenious idea, it disseminated the insights of the textual criticism of that time through a hand edition designed for university and school studies and for church purposes. Nestle took the three leading scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament at that time by Tischendorf, Westcott/Hort, and Weymouth as a basis. (After 1901 he replaced the latter with Bernhard Weiß’s 1894/1900 edition.) Where their textual decisions differed from each other Nestle chose for his own text the variant which was preferred by two of the editions included, while the variant of the third was put into the apparatus.
The text-critical apparatus remained rudimentary in all the editions published by Eberhard Nestle. It was Eberhard Nestle’s son Erwin who provided the 13th edition of 1927 with a consistent critical apparatus showing evidence from manuscripts, early translations, and patristic citations. However, these notes did not derive from the primary sources, but only from editions.
This changed in the nineteen-fifties when Kurt Aland started working for the edition by checking the apparatus entries against Greek manuscripts and editions of the Church Fathers. This phase came to a close in 1963 when the 25th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece appeared; later printings of this edition already carried the brand name “Nestle-Aland” on their covers.
The 26th edition, which appeared in 1979, featured a fundamentally new approach. Until then the guiding principle had been to adopt the text supported by a majority of the critical editions referred to. Now the text was established on the basis of source material that had been assembled and evaluated in the intervening period. It included early papyri and other manuscript discoveries so that the 26th edition represented the situation of textual criticism in the 20th century. Its text was identical with that of the 3rd edition of the UBS Greek New Testament (GNT) published in 1975, as a consequence of the parallel work done on both editions. Already in 1955, Kurt Aland was invited to participate in an editorial committee with Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger, Alan Wikgren, and at first Arthur Vööbus, later Carlo Martini (and, from 1982, Barbara Aland and Johannes Karavidopoulos) to produce a reliable hand edition of the Greek New Testament.
The first edition of the GNT appeared in 1966. Its text was established along the lines of Westcott and Hort and differed considerably from Nestle’s 25th edition. This holds true for the second edition of the GNT as well. When the third edition was prepared Kurt Aland was able to contribute the textual proposals coming from his preliminary work on the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland. Hence the process of establishing the text for both editions continued to converge so that eventually they could share an identical text. However, their external appearance and the design of their apparatus remains different, because they serve different purposes. The GNT is primarily intended for translators, providing a reliable Greek initial text and a text-critical apparatus showing variants that are relevant for translation. In the case of the passages selected for this purpose, the evidence is displayed as completely as possible. The Novum Testamentum Graece is produced primarily for research, academic education, and pastoral practice. It seeks to provide an apparatus that enables the reader to make a critical assessment of the reconstruction of the Greek initial text.
The text of the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland was adopted for the 27th edition also, while the apparatus underwent an extensive revision. The text remained the same, because the 27th edition was not “deemed an appropriate occasion for introducing textual changes”. Since then the situation has changed because the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) of the Catholic Letters is now available. Its text was established on the basis of all the relevant material from manuscripts and other sources. The ECM text was adopted for the present edition following approval by the editorial committee of the Nestle-Aland and the GNT.
This makes more certain for us the Apostle Peter’s words: “But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25, NASB) We can have the same confidence that the One who inspired the Holy Scriptures, giving us His inerrant Word, has also used his servants to preserve them throughout the last two thousand years, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4, NASB) The beloved Bruce Manning Metzger was right; the text of the New Testament was transmitted; then, it entered a 1,400-year period of corruption, and has been enjoying a 500-year period of restoration.
Kurt Aland achieved the following honorary doctorates:
- 1950: “Dr. (h.c.)”, from University of Göttingen (Germany)
- 1957: “Doctor of Divinity”, from University of St Andrews (Scotland)
- 1971: “Doctor of Literature”, from Wartburg College (Iowa)
He received the following awards:
- 1963: Golden “Cross of Athos” of the patriarchate of Alexandria
- 1975: “Burkitt Medal” for Biblical Studies by the British Academy
- 1976: Grant Cross of Merit, neck cross (Großes Verdienstkreuz)
- 1983: Grant Cross of Merit with star (Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern)
- 1985: “Luther-Medal” from the University of Halle-Wittenberg
- 1985: “Canstein-Medal” from the German Bible Society
- 1994: “St. Paul’s Biglerville Prize” from the Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic
Kurt Aland was a member of the following academies:
- since 1955: Saxonian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Germany)
- since 1969: British Academy
- since 1975: Academy of Science of Göttingen (Germany)
- since 1976: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Text – Wort – Glaube in Honour of Kurt Aland, ed. Martin Brecht (De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 1980, ISBN 3-11-007318-8)
- Grundlagen der Apologetik: Kurt Aland zum 70. Geburtstag, published by “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Religions- und Weltanschauungsfragen” (Munich, 1985, ISBN 3-921513-68-5)
- Supplementa zu den Neutestamentlichen und den Kirchengeschichtlichen Entwürfen in Honour of Kurt Aland presented to his 75th birthday, ed. Beate Köster, Hans-Udo Rosenbaum, Michael Welte (De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 1990, ISBN 3110121425, 9783110121421)
The American Society of Biblical Literature elected him an Honorary Member. Furthermore, Aland was elected an Honorary Life Member in 1966 by the American Bible Society.
Kurt Aland wrote and published numerous books and articles in magazines; his bibliography lists 477 publications. Therefore, the following list provides only an excerpt of his work.
Books translated or written in English
- Greek New Testament by Kurt and Barbara Aland (and others), German Bible Society; 5 revised ed. (August 2014); ISBN 978-1-61970139-7
- Novum Testamentum Graece – Nestle-Aland by Kurt and Barbara Aland (and others), German Bible Society; 28 Rev Blg ed. (December 1, 2012), ISBN 978-1-61970046-8
- Synopsis of the Four Gospels edited by Kurt Aland, United Bible Societies, 1985, ISBN 978-0-82670500-6
- Aland, Kurt (February 9, 2004) [1963; Die Sauglingstaufe im Neuen Testament und in der alten Kirche, 1961], Did the Early Church Baptize Infants?, Wipf & Stock, ISBN 978-1-59244541-7.
- ———; Aland, Barbara (1987), The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, ISBN 978-0-80284098-1.
- Catholic Letters: Text and Supplementary Material (Editio Critica Maior: Novum Testamentum Graece) by Kurt and Barbara Aland (and others), German Bible Society; Rev Mul ed. (October 2013), ISBN 978-1-61970045-1
- A History of Christianity: From the Beginnings to the Threshold of the Reformation (History of Christianity) (Volume 1) by Kurt Aland, Fortress Pr (February 1985), ISBN 978-0-80060725-8
- A History of Christianity: From the Reformation to the Present (Volume 2) by Kurt Aland, Fortress Pr (September 1986), ISBN 978-0-80060759-3
- New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis and Church History A Discussion of Methods (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology) by Kurt Aland and J Delobel, Peeters (January 1, 1994), ISBN 978-903900105-9
- Four reformers: Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Zwingli by Kurt Aland, Augsburg Pub. House (1979), ISBN 978-0-80661709-1
- Martin Luther’s 95 Theses by Kurt Aland, Concordia Publishing (December 30, 2004), ISBN 978-0-75860844-4
- The correspondence of Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg by Kurt Aland, Camden, Maine: Picton Press, c. 1986, 1993
- Saints and Sinners – Men and Ideas in the Early Church by Kurt Aland, Fortress Press (1970), ASIN B0006CPJSU
- A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (3. ed.) by B. M. Metzger and the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (K. Aland, M. Black, C. M. Martini, B. M. Metzger, and Allen Wikgren), 1971;
- The New Testament: Ancient Greek with Today’s English Version by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce Metzger, and Allen Wikgren, American Bible Society (1966), ASIN B002ULOMFG.