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Problems with Patristic Evidence

Sorry not to have posted for a couple of days. I am out of the country and did not have the wifi connection that I was told I’d have. I confess, it was nice being incommunicado! But I’m back, for the duration I should think.

And to return to the topic of original conversation on this thread – before getting sidelined with all that discussion of Luke 3:22 — the importance, but problems, with patristic evidence (that is, citations of the New Testament in the writings of the church fathers) for the tasks of textual criticism.

Of the three kinds of evidence available for establishing the text of the NT and for determining how it was altered over the years, the Patristic evidence has received the least attention. Most attention has been paid, as you would expect, to the Greek manuscripts; after them, to the versions – although some versions have been notoriously neglected, in no small measure because they involve languages few people know (Armenian, Goergian, Gothic, Old Church Slavonic, etc.) and because their manuscript traditions are tricky. But even less attention has been paid – until recent years – to the patristic evidence, both because there have been doubts about its ultimate value and because getting at this evidence has proved frustratingly difficult.

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Didymus the Blind and Patristic Evidence
Did Luke Originally Have Chapters 1-2?

17

Comments

  1. TomTerrific  August 18, 2013

    A hundred lashes with a wet noodle!

    We missed you.

  2. toddfrederick  August 18, 2013

    One great frustration for me when discussing an issue dealing with a word or idea in theology or in the Bible is the nit-picking involved with the meanings of single words in the biblical text. Many heated discussion arise over such issues often with serious negative consequences. Perhaps one glaring example is the issue of faith and works as seen in reformation theology or the issue of predestination and free will resulting in serious church divisions and often conflicts and deaths resulting.

    As an example, I read a short essay yesterday regarding Jesus’ thoughts on homosexuality (a current hot and anger producing issue)…I don’t have the essay in front of me so I will have to wing it a bit…but the gist of the argument was in the use of the Aramaic word for *eunuch”. In the article the author indicated that one type of eunuch is one who is “born a eunuch” and he interprets this to mean a homosexual, which Jesus does not condemn. Here is where there would be a parting of the ways in the contemporary church focused on the meaning of one single word.

    It seems that the patristic fathers also are not totally reliable in determining what is the exact and correct meaning of the words used or of the texts in general and often they had to wing-it.

    My problem with this on a faith based level is that this nit-picking, although so important in pure research to understand primal texts, often misses the forest by examining the individual trees.

    For me the purpose of the scriptural documents is to communicate living reality far greater than just the text itself….The words are to communicate a more profound divine or spiritual truth that has here-and-now meaning for humans living on this planet and for the ethics by which we live and serve our fellow humans.

    I suppose in some ways we can see a progression such as this: the documents > the scholars > the theologians > the people who hopefully apply these “truths” in their daily lives. The average person needs guidance in understand the scriptural guidance and here is where the scholars and theologians are so important by guiding church pastors in the meaning of what is communicated in scripture.

    If such communication is not done then the whole effort is futile and simply an academic exercise.

    It’s a “trickle down effect” and hopefully those “truths” which are transforming and uplifting will trickle down to the least of us to help guide us in making this a better world in which to live.

    **these are just some thought that came to me while reading your essay…thank you for reading my response**

  3. RonaldTaska  August 18, 2013

    Using New Testament quotes from church fathers to establish what the earliest Bibles most likely said is interesting and you explain the complexities of the task quite well. Nevertheless, I am puzzled by why such evidence would be copied and recopied over the centuries. Were there church libraries or state libraries where such stuff was copied and saved even if it did not seem extraordinarily important? I really have trouble imagining how and why such stuff got copied and recopied and saved. I understand copying and saving scripture or a history written by Josephus, but not other less significant stuff.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2013

      Ah, good question. Monasteries often wanted older writings of church fathers for their libraries.

  4. talitakum
    talitakum  August 19, 2013

    My apologies in advance for this short Off Topic: during a public debate between you and Daniel Wallace, he announced the forthcoming publication of (nothing less than) a first-century fragment of Mark’s gospel !! It should have happened sometime this year, published by (nothing less than) by E. J. Brill..!
    As per Wallace’s recommendation, I have “stayed tuned” – however – no news so far, as far as I’m concerned.
    Do you have any update? Will you publicly challenge him on this topic?? (I think you should.. maybe on this blog!). Thank you

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2013

      Dan is unable to tell me/us anything. I’ve asked him repeatedly. But he has signed a “non-disclosure agreement,” which means that he is legally bound not to say a word about it. Very frustrating for the rest of us!!

      • toddfrederick  August 19, 2013

        Sounds like exclusive rights on a publication the purpose being money. Not very scholarly 😀

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2013

          Sorry — not sure what you’re referring to!

          • toddfrederick  August 21, 2013

            I was trying to be a bit sarcastically humorous and was referring to: * …he has signed a “non-disclosure agreement,” which means that he is legally bound not to say a word about it. Very frustrating for the rest of us!! *

            I was just thinking that the mystery of the contents of the fragment of Mark’s gospel is held up in a “non-disclosure” agreement” and is about the “business” of publication rather than a quest for knowledge to be shared and discussed among scholars.

            Bad “joke” on my part. Sorry.

      • talitakum
        talitakum  August 19, 2013

        At this point I don’t know what’s left to disclose .. Other than the expected publication date!

  5. dikelmm  August 20, 2013

    Given all the controversy surrounding various evidence of the “original” Bible texts, which English translation of the Bible would you recommend to a non-scholarly but educated reader?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 21, 2013

      My preferred translation is the New Revised Standard Version, which I especially like in a study edition, such as the HarperCollins Study Bible.

  6. cheito
    cheito  August 21, 2013

    Just ordered, the Text of the New Testament: It’s transmission, corruption and restoration, 4th edition
    by Bruce M. Metzger.

    I’ve recently started reading on the subject of the Canon of the New Testament. I’ve been reading the bible for decades and my approach currently is to focus on the writings of the eyewitnesses and then branching out from there when forming my own theological perspective.

    I make my living as a truck driver so I don’t have a lot of time to write. However I do have time to listen to the bible on mp3’s.

    I’ve enjoyed throwing in my two cents, hope I haven’t been a nuisance.

    God bless you and yours!

    PS: I have my own list of books selected from the bible which I believe are reliable.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  August 31, 2013

      ” to focus on the writings of the eyewitnesses”? What eyewitnesses could you be referring to? If you mean the Gospel writers, you are making a huge assumption if you believe they themselves were eyewitnesses. If the assumption were true, it would certainly simplify things. But none of the writers claims to be–not even Luke. None even write in the first person. A great many New Testament scholars and historians have come to the conclusion that the Gospels are not histories as much as they are stories trying to make theological points. As for Paul, he might be reporting what he experienced but isn’t he also interpreting what he experienced? Acts, I believe, calls it a vision. Also, I am suspicious of Paul’s motives: he presses the point of his Jewishness too much, me thinks; his claims about studying under the eminent Gamaliel are questioned by scholar Hyam Maccoby since Paul’s use of Pharisaic argument is problematic; he talks more about his own suffering and that of his followers than he does Jesus’ and what “good” Jew would believe in human sacrifice or individual salvation through believing something? Very odd; Jews believed that the way we treat our (Jewish?) neighbor counted in righteousness, not faith. So, again, just what was Paul eyewitness to?

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2013

        Sorry — I’m not sure the context within which I wrote that phrase. What are you referring to? If you’ve been following this blog, or read my books, you’ll know that I don’t think that the Gospels are by eyewitnesses!! Just hte contrary. Also, Paul himself never claims to have studied under Gamaliel. That is only in Acts, and I don’t think it’s historical (either that he did or that he claimed he did).

        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  September 2, 2013

          Sorry, it was the contributor “cheito” who made the remark. I thought I entered my comment under his post where it said “Reply” but perhaps I put it in the “Add a Comment” box so it went to you rather than him. I’m quite clear on your basic thoughts about the authorship of the Gospels. From my lay perspective, I agree totally. Thanks for the correction about who claimed that Paul studied under Gamaliel. I guess that Maccoby (in The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity) was questioning Acts’ claim , not Paul’s. I’ve often asked myself how could a Jew (like Paul supposedly was ) could (in the 1st century) believe in human sacrifice or that any figure other than almighty God could save or believe salvation was such a personal matter rather than a matter for the people Israel or that each of us was so thoroughly sinful that there was only one way out or that it was okay (even if Paul believed his Christ was an angel) for a Jew to worship Jesus in addition to God or, especially, that a Jew could believe that having a certain belief could save a person. I’m sure I did not list all the reasons why a modern (or first century) Jew might be skeptical of Paul’s Jewishness. So far, for me, the best explanation of how he could be a Jew and still believe such things is that he was a very, very Hellenistic Jew, perhaps even influenced by pagan Mystery Cults and their processions through Tarsus. It would be so helpful if you would write a piece or series of pieces addressing such matters.

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