Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original? Assuming there were errors made by the person(s) who copied the original letter of Paul to the Philippians, would you agree that the first copy even with some errors still had the original context of the first letter. If you do agree, then is it totally accurate to say that we don’t have the original letter of Paul written to the Philippians? Don’t you think that it’s more accurate to state that we do have the original but it has been altered to some degree? Has the letter to the Philippians written by Paul been altered so much that we can’t really know what the original proclaimed?
These are great questions. They have the benefit of making very concrete some of the things that I have said, in general terms, about the textual tradition of the New Testament. I think I might devote a few posts to delving into the issues that the questioner has raised, since the answers are not as simple as one might imagine, and they open up a number of very interesting issues that need to be decided when trying to resolve the questions of (a) what the “original” text of a book like Philippians might have been, and (b) whether we can reasonably hope to know what that original text was.
But before going into detail with various parts of the problems that are involved, let me give here in this post a more rapid-fire shorthand response to each of the questions seriatim. I’ll do that by repeating each question and then giving a brief reply.
1) Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul?
Yes, Philippians is one of the seven “undisputed letters” of Paul, a phrase that scholars use as a short hand to say that virtually (but not entirely) all scholars are sure that Paul really wrote these letters, as opposed to the pseudepigraphical letters that are thought widely not to have been written by Paul even though they claim Paul as their author. The undisputed letters are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The others are all thought – either by most critical scholars or by lots of them – to be “forged” – that is written in the name of Paul by someone claiming to be Paul even though he was, and knew that he was, someone else.
One problem with Philippians, however, that I will need to address, is whether it is in fact a single letter. There are good reasons, as it turns out, for thinking that it is two fragments of letters that have been spliced together into one.
2) Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original?
I’m not sure I know what this question means. The first copy of a book is not the original of the book but the first copy of the original. It is an “original first copy” – but it is not the original of the book. Even more significant: what does it mean to call something the “original”? On one hand, part of the answer to this question is easy: the term “original” is not applied to any of the copies made after the original was made. But what is the original? The answer may seem obvious to you (it used to seem obvious to me!). But I’m going to show in a later post why, in fact, it is highly problematic.
3) Assuming there were errors made by the person(s) who copied the original letter of Paul to the Philippians, would you agree that the first copy even with some errors still had the original context of the first letter?
FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, go to the members’ site. If you don’t belong yet, JOIN WHILE THERE’S STILL TIME!!!
Member content continues: