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The Oldest Printed Versions of the Greek New Testament

I have started to explain what it is translators of the New Testament actually translate.  They do not translate just one manuscript or another; they translate what they take to be the “original” text as it has been reconstructed by textual specialists (some of whom are the translators themselves).  These reconstructions can be found in printed editions of the Greek New Testament. To make sense of what the translators actually have in front of them when they are translating, I need to give a brief history of the printing of the Greek New Testament.  To that end I will provide in two or three posts the directly relevant material given in my book Misquoting Jesus.  I’ve always thought this is unusually interesting information connected to “how we got our Bible.”  I start at the beginning, with the invention of printing.   *********************************************************   The text of the New Testament was copied in a fairly standardized form throughout the centuries of the Middle Ages, both in the East (the “Byzantine” text) and the West (the Latin [...]

Different Ways of Describing the Theology of the New Testament

To return to the current thread: I’ve been discussing why most scholars are not equipped, trained, or inclined to write books for a general audience, and that took me, naturally, to the field of scholarship in which I myself was principally trained, biblical studies.  My ultimate point is going be a somewhat ironic one, that precisely because my particular interests were in one of the most highly technical, obtuse, mind-numbingly detailed aspects of New Testament studies, this (strangely) made it *more* possible for me to write books for non-specialists.  The logic will not be obvious, but I’ll explain it. To get to that I’ve been talking about the two areas most of my peers and colleagues in my PhD program were principally interested in:  (1) the exegesis of the New Testament (the matter of interpreting the texts of the New Testament in order to see what they appear to have meant in their original context – not an easy task, given all the work required for it, including an understanding of the Greek language and [...]

Another Approach to New Testament Theology

There is another aspect of the study of New Testament theology to what I discussed in yesterday’s post.   That post was focused on how one “does theology” with the New Testament – that is, how one uses the New Testament texts in such a way as to inform, critique, call into question, authorize, and dialogue with the important intellectual and practical aspects of life as a Christian, both individually and in community.  That is the sort of thing theologians do who are interested in the sacred texts of Scripture, and it is something many of my friends who were doing PhD’s in New Testament studies were ultimately invested in, especially since most of them saw their graduate training in the field to be preparation for serving the Christian church. But there is another equally important aspect of New Testament theology that is more historical in its focus.  If you imagine a spectrum of disciplines with exegesis (the determination of what an author originally meant, to put it in its simplest terms) on one end, and [...]

Studying New Testament Theology

This thread has turned into an explanation of why most New Testament scholars – that is, professional researchers and teachers with a PhD in the field – are not well situated to write books for a general audience.   My reflections on that question – once I get around to it – are probably not what one would expect.  At least they seem ironic to me.  But before going there (in a later post), I should stress that what is true of NT scholars is true of virtually all scholars in virtually all fields of intellectual inquiry.  Most are not equipped (or inclined) to write books for their next door neighbor.  They are trained and interested in producing scholarship for other scholars, sometimes just for a small coterie of scholars who are specialists in their own narrowly focused field of intense research.  (I need to emphasize that I do not think this is a bad thing at *all*.  I think it is a very good thing.  Scholars are trained to advance scholarship.  We only need a [...]

Being Trained To Interpret Texts

In some rather surprising and ironic ways, I think my training in a particularly obscure and technical aspect of New Testament studies made me *more* qualified to write books for a general audience than most of my colleagues and peers.   Almost everyone I knew in my graduate program was interested almost exclusively in two areas of academic research: exegesis and New Testament theology.   I was interested in something that most of them did not care about in the least: textual criticism.  Let me explain the difference before discussing why an interest in the *least* reader-friendly field helped make me better able to make scholarship *more* reader-friendly. “Exegesis” is the technical term used for the science and art of interpretation of texts.  It may seem obvious to you that interpreting a text is a simple matter.  You read what it says and you understand it.  No problem, right?  Wrong.  In fact interpretation of texts is a highly complicated affair and requires both well-thought out methodology and rigorous discipline.   We spent many years – hard years of [...]

Who Could Read and Write? A Blast from the Past.

It’s been fun for me to look over posts on the blog from years ago.  Here is one of relevance to some of my recent comments on the book of Revelation, for two reasons. One involves literacy: who could read and write?  Could John the son of Zebedee? The other involves “secredaries.”   Since my Revelation posts, a couple of people have asked me if it’s possible that the author used a “secretary” for the book (that is: since John the son of Zebedee couldn’t write, maybe he instructed a literate companion to write it for him.)  The issue of “secretaries” in early Chrsitianity was the subject of two posts that I made exactly at this time, four years ago.  I’ll give both posts, since they strike me as of perennial significance (and interest!)  Here is what I said back then (as you’ll see, in this case the issues involved whether Peter could have written 1 Peter)   ***************************************************************** IN RESPONSE TO MY POSTS ON SECRETARIES AND THE BOOK OF 1 PETER, SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE RAISED [...]

Modern Views of the Authorship of the Pentateuch

I am now nearly finished talking about the “Documentary Hypothesis” devised by scholars of the Hebrew Bible to account for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  I have already discussed the traditional view developed in the nineteenth century, especially as it was laid out by Julius Wellhausen.   All of this was in response to a question I received about what scholars today have to say about it.   Here is what I say, briefly, about that in my textbook on the Bible.  It’s about as much as most beginning students (and most people in general) need to know.   ***************************************************************   The Scholarly View Today It is impossible to speak about a single scholarly opinion about the Documentary Hypothesis today.   Some scholars reject the idea that J and E were separate sources; some think that there were far more sources than the four; some propose radically different dates for the various sources (for example, one increasingly popular proposal is that the earliest sources were written in the 7th century; other scholars maintain [...]

Did Moses Write the Pentateuch? The JEDP Hypothesis.

I have been discussing the sources of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), sometimes also called the Torah or the Law of Moses.  So far I have explained the kinds of literary problems that led scholars to realize that these books were not the writing of a single author, but represented a combination of earlier written accounts.  The traditional “documentary hypothesis,” as it is called, was most famously formulated by the nineteenth-century German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, who, along with some of his predecessors, called the sources J E D and P. This was the standard view of the matter back when I was doing my PhD in biblical studies way back when.   Here is how the hypothesis worked, in nuce.  (Again, this is taken from my textbook on the Bible). ************************************************************* The J source was the first source to be written. From it comes a number of the stories in Genesis and Exodus, including, for example the second creation account and the story of Adam [...]

Who Wrote the Pentateuch? Early Questions of Authorship.

On to something different!  I want to move to a new blog topic for a while.  I’ve been talking about my new book – still being written! – about the Christianization of the empire – for a while, and it’s obviously the topic near and dear to me just now.  But variety is the spice of life. Several readers have responded to me about my response to the question of the sources behind the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, also called, collectively, the “Torah” or the “Law” of Moses).   I thought it might be refreshing to say a few more things about these books and the question of who actually wrote them.  I had discussed some of this on the blog three years ago, when I was writing my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.   Here I will lift a few sections from the book dealing with this fascinating and important topic. The question: Who wrote the Pentateuch?  Historically, it was always [...]

Jesus’ Death; Good Scholars; and Writing the First Book: Readers’ Mailbag May 28, 2016

I have three rather wide ranging questions to deal with in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one on the understanding of Christ’s death as a sacrifice (or not); one on whom I like to read among NT scholars; and one on how to publish a scholarly book. This should be fun!  If you have a question you’d like me to address, simply ask it in any comment on any post (whether it’s relevant to the post or not).   QUESTION: Would you agree with the statement of scholars like Marcus Borg that Jesus died BECAUSE of the sins of the world and not FOR the sins of the world? Scholars like Borg are quite emphatic that the death of Jesus is not a sacrifice in the way that most (i.e. fundamentalist) Christians understand it: Jesus died for our sins and by believing in Jesus we gain eternal life. Rather, Jesus’ death is understood as a WAY to God: That by following the life of Jesus and offering up our suffering to God we walk in the [...]

Weekly Readers’ Mailbag: February 18, 2016

  Here is the weekly Readers’ Mailbag, three questions this time – one about my  alleged “support of Islam against Christianity,” one about why we think the NT Gospels were originally written in Greek, and one about what I mean when I talk about the views held by the majority of “critical” scholars (as opposed to what other kind of scholar?)? Feel free to ask questions you have; some I will not be able to get to (either because I don’t know the answer or because the answer is a one-liner instead of a two-paragrapher or for some other reason); and the list is always growing (making it harder and harder to answer them all).  But give it a shot!  I love to hear your questions.   COMMENT:  [After pointing out that whoever said I was about ready to convert to Islam was obviously makin’ in up, or influenced by someone else who was makin’ it up, this Muslim reader commented as follows:]  Anyways, that won’t stop us from using your awesome arguments against Christianity. [...]

Readers’ Mailbag: December 27, 2015

QUESTION:  [Bart has said:]  “Jesus must have been called the messiah during his lifetime, or it makes no sense that he would be called messiah after his death”:  [Comment:] By this line of reasoning, then surely one would conclude that Jesus was considered divine during his lifetime, else it makes no sense he would be considered divine after his death?   RESPONSE:  The first line in the question is a quotation of a view I have elaborated on the blog.  The logic, in short (see the posts for a fuller explanation) is that no one on the planet expected that the messiah would die and rise again.  And so even someone who came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection would never conclude: OH!  He must be the messiah?  That’s because that is not what the messiah was supposed to do. The questioner then is arguing that the same thing applies to the question of Jesus’ divinity, that the resurrection would not make anyone think Jesus is divine.  My view is that this is precisely wrong.  It [...]

The Unusual Thesis of The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture

As I started to point out in my previous post, the overarching idea behind my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was that scribes copying their sacred texts in the early centuries of Christianity were not immune from the theological controversies raging in their day, but that they were, in some sense, participants in those disputes.   In pursuing that idea, I had to bring together two fields of academic inquiry that were almost always kept distinct from each other – the study of the manuscripts of the New Testament and the investigation into the development of early Christian theology.  The vast majority of scholars who worked on manuscripts were not informed about the social and doctrinal history of early Christianity (except in rather broad and basic terms) and the vast majority of scholars who worked on the theological controversies of the early church were almost completely ignorant of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.  I wanted to bring the two together. Let me again say that I was not the first to come up [...]

An Amusing Anecdote about the State of Textual Criticism

I’d like to sum up my posts so far on the state of New Testament textual criticism – my original field of scholarship – when I entered into the field of student as a graduate student in the early 1980s by telling an anecdote. It has always struck me as rather amusing.  (I am basing all this on memory, and as I’ve just written a book on memory, I am acutely aware of how frail this particular human function is.  But this is exactly as I remember it!) I was attending, for the second or third time, I suppose, the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting.   This is the professional meeting that nearly all scholars of biblical studies – mainly professors (and graduate students) in colleges, universities, and seminaries – attend every year.  Today the meeting has probably 6000 or 7000 attendees.  Back then it was probably half that. At the meeting there are papers being read in different sessions, simultaneously – maybe 30-40 sessions going on at a time, in all sorts of areas:  [...]

The Malaise in New Testament Textual Criticism

I indicated in my previous post that the overall character of the text (as opposed to the apparatus) of the Greek New Testament in 1981 was widely perceived by New Testament scholars in to be pretty much “set,” and not all much different from what it had been in 1881.  I need to explain that a bit. I chose 1881 intentionally (not just for personal reasons: by fluke, it happens to have been exactly a century before I finished my Master’s degree in which I focused on New Testament textual criticism).   1881 was a very big year for the field.  It was the year that two famous New Testament scholars from England, named Fenton John Anthony Hort and Brooke Foss Westcott, published their highly significant edition of the Greek New Testament, which they called, with some temerity, The New Testament in the Original Greek.  (Temerity because they were claiming to have solved virtually all the problems of establishing “the” original text.) This was a huge event, as it turns out.   But to make sense of [...]

Why New Testament Textual Criticism Had Grown Moribund

In my previous post I had begun to indicate that the field of New Testament textual criticism had grown notably and depressingly moribund in America by the late 1970s when I began my graduate studies.   But I didn’t explain just *why* most New Testament scholars – let alone scholars in other fields of religious studies or the humanities more broadly – did not find the field interesting and / or important.   The reason has to do with what I laid out as one of the almost-universally-held views among textual critics (and other scholars at all connected with the field):  That the entire goal, purpose, and raison d’être of the discipline was to establish what an author originally wrote (a goal, purpose, and raison d’être that may seem both reasonable and self-evident.  But keep reading my posts). Why would that view have created such apathy toward the field, such a lack of interest in pursuing its objectives?  For the most part, it was because New Testament scholars assumed that the field had achieved its goal.  We [...]

Evaluating the Views of Walter Bauer

In my last two posts I talked about the relationship of orthodoxy and heresy in early Christianity.   The standard view, held for many many centuries, goes back to the Church History  of the fourth-century church father Eusebius, who argued that orthodoxy represented the original views of Jesus and his disciples, and heresies were corruptions of that truth by willful, mean-spirited, wicked, and demon inspired teachers who wanted to lead others astray. In 1934 Walter Bauer challenged that view in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.   Bauer argued that in many regions of the church, the earliest known form of Christianity was one that later came to be declared a heresy.   Heresies were not, therefore, necessarily later corruptions of an original truth.  In many instances they were the oldest known kind of Christianity, in one place or another.   The form of Christianity that became dominant by the end of the third century or so was the only known particularly in Rome.   Once this Roman form of Christianity had more or less swept aside its [...]

A Radically Different View of Orthodoxy and Heresy

In my last post I started discussing the terms “orthodoxy” and “heresy,” pointing out that their traditional/etymological meanings are not very helpful for historians.   “Orthodoxy” literally means the “right belief” about God, Christ, the world and so.   That means it is a theological term about religious truth.   But historians are not theologians who can tell you what is theologically true; they are scholars who try to establish what happened in the past.  And so how can a historian, acting as a historian, say that one group of believers is right and that another is wrong? The problem with the two terms came to particular expression in a book written in 1934 by a German scholar named Walter Bauer.  The book was auf Deutsch, but its English title is Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.   For my money, this was the most important book on early Christianity written in the 20th century.   It completely revolutionized how we are to understand the theological controversies that were wracking the Christian church in its early years. If you recall, [...]

Questions on the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

I have received a number of questions from readers about the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, arising out of my earlier discussion of it and the beginning of the back and forth I’m having with Mark Goodacre (as we await his reply to my initial response; he is overseas attending an academic conference and has his hands tied up just now).   Here I will deal with two questions, one that’s a zinger and the other that has been asked by several readers. First the zinger.   The reader noted that I indicated that the books of the library were manufactured in the fourth century; we know this because the leather bindings on the books had their spines strengthened with scrap papyrus (and is therefore called the cartonnage) and some of these papyri were dated receipts.  And so the reader’s question:   QUESTION: Just out of curiosity – what form of dating did the compilers of the books use, that would correspond to our “341 CE” and so on? I’m assuming they weren’t using Roman dates. [...]

My Response To Mark Goodacre on the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

A couple of days ago we enjoyed a guest post on the blog by Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament at Duke University.  In this post Mark provided five reasons for doubting if the story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library – as that story has been recounted by scholars for many years – is in fact accurate.  Mark’s post was a summary of a longer, more detailed, and scholarly article that he has published on the subject. I asked Mark’s permission to respond to his five points, and he gladly agreed; I in turn have agreed to let him respond to my responses.   Rather than asking you to reread his post, I have reproduced each of his five reasons here, and then dealt with them one at a time.   Mark will later post a response to each of my responses. Let me say that I really don’t have a horse in this race, and my sense is that Mark doesn’t either.  We would both love to be able to keep telling the [...]

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