Texts from the New Testament are preserved in their Greek original language in approx. 5500 manuscripts. It can be assumed that actually no copy is identical with another. Thus, the most important task of the text research of the New Testament is the reconstruction of the text form, which was the starting point for the transmission.
So far, the science had to use “Große Ausgaben” (big editions) that were finalized in 1872 and 1913. The number of known manuscripts has multiplied since then. The ECM, as a comprehensive edition of the Greek New Testament, has the aspiration, to make the entire material available that is relevant for the exploration of the textual history and the reconstruction of the source text of the transmission, based on all accessible manuscripts. In this process, the preserved Greek manuscripts, the quotations from the New Testament from the old Christian writers and the old translations of the New Testament are incorporated, notably the translations in Latin, Coptic and Syrian.
For research, the question arises how the different text forms, that we can find in the manuscripts, are linked. The main problem is, that it repeatedly came to contaminations, meaning that copyists oriented their texts towards more than one template, therefore mixing text forms. So far, it was seen as impossible to gather family trees from contaminated text forms. But at the ECM a new computerized method is applied, that makes it possible to capture the genealogical structure of a contaminated transmission and to reach a differentiated picture of the textual history. Therefore, the reconstruction of the initial texts of the transmission receives a whole new basis.
In the course of this project text volumes are published, with matched “accompanying material” and study volumes. The text volume and “accompanying material” of the pilot project of the ECM, the Catholic Epistles, have already been published.
In the editorial technique, new ground has been broken as well. Therefore, the complete material will be made available online in the future. After all, programs are included in this electronic branch of the edition, that will enable the user to apply the same innovative methods to the material, like the editors, and therefore to pursue own questions.
The Münster Institute for Text Research of the New Testament provided the extensive preliminary work for the ECM and carry the editorial responsibility. The North Rhine Westphalian Academy of Sciences supports the project since 2008 and has set up the post “Novum Testamentum Greacum. Editio Critica Major” at the department of Protestant Theology of the University Münster.