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Were All Textual Changes Made by Scribes by 300 CE? Readers’ Mailbag November 5, 2017

For today’s Readers’ Mailbag I deal with an interesting and important question about the changes that scribes made in their manuscripts.   QUESTION In several of your books you mention that most modifications in the NT manuscripts happened in first 3 centuries. If I’m correct we have no manuscript from 1st century and only few from the 2nd. That means we can say almost nothing about changes during this time. This is however more than half of the “greatest modifications” historical period.   RESPONSE This comment is more of a statement than a question, but the question is clearly implied: how do we know (or why do we think) that almost all of the changes in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament as found in later manuscripts were made early in the history of the tradition, in the first three centuries, if we don’t have many manuscripts from that period to prove it?  Great question.   But with an answer that I think just about every textual scholar agrees with. To begin with: when textual [...]

How Did Judas Iscariot Die? Readers’ Mailbag June 18, 2017

Two questions in this week’s Readers’ mailbag.  The first concerns the very strange tradition about how Judas Iscariot actually died, as found in the writings of the early church father Papias; the second is about modern evangelical Christian biblical scholars: how do they deal with the fact that our manuscripts contain so many textual variants?  If you have a question, feel free to ask, and I’ll add it to the ever growing mailbag.   QUESTION: Papias didn’t think very highly of Judas. I can’t remember exactly what he said, is his version closer to Matthew or Acts? Or a different tradition altogether?   RESPONSE: First some background.  Papias is one of the fascinating and virtually unknown figures from the early church.  He is normally thought to have been writing around 120 or 130 CE.  His major work was a five-volume discussion of the teachings of Jesus, called Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord.  We very much regret that we no longer have this book – it would have been the first known explanation of/commentary [...]

A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying a text).  None of the scribes is around to be interviewed, and so – as with a lot of history – there is a good bit of scholarly guess-work that has to be done. This guess work is not simply shooting in the dark, however.   And it is dead easy for a highly trained expert to tell the difference between informed guesswork and just plain guesswork.   But at the end of the day we are always talking about historical probabilities, not historical certainties, when it comes to figuring out why a scribed decided to change [...]

An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the original text – then there is still almost certainly an intentional change still involved, but made for some other reason.   But either way, the change does not appear to have been made simply by inattention to detail. Here I’ll give a second instance from Mark of what appears to be an intentional change.  I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do.   I use the term I simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:51-04:00August 2nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Illustration of a Textual Change: Did Mark Make a Mistake?

I have started discussing “intentional” changes of the text of the New Testament – that is alterations found in manuscripts of the New Testament that appear to have been made by scribes who *wanted* to change the text, presumably in order to make it say (more closely) what they wanted it to say.   Let me illustrate my discussion by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus.  This will take a couple of posts. In a still later post I will talk about the criteria and arguments that scholars typically use in order to resolve these questions.  I will be alluding to those criteria and arguments here in my explanations of why one form of the text appears to be what the author originally wrote, and the other form of the text appears to be the scribal [...]

2020-10-16T21:54:02-04:00July 31st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Kinds of Changes in our Manuscripts

In this post I continue to provide some more of the background necessary to understand what my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was about.   So far I have indicated that since we do not have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament, we have to rely on later copies, all of which have mistakes in them.   We have far more copies of the NT than of any other book from antiquity –and as a result, far more differences among our copies (i.e. more mistakes).   In addition we have ancient translations of the NT (the early “versions”) and quotations of the NT in the writings of church fathers.   These also provide further pieces of evidence – as well as further variations in wording. As a result, it is a very complicated business trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.   Scholars continue to debate the precise wording of this that or the other verse.  In some cases we simply will never know. No one has been able to [...]

2020-04-03T13:30:48-04:00July 22nd, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts|

Do Textual Variants Really Matter for Anything?

QUESTION: I got the impression (I can’t remember where or if you said this… or if Bruce Metzger said it) that no significant Christian doctrine is threatened by text critical issues… and so, if that is the case, who cares if, in Mark 4: 18, Jesus spoke of the “illusion” of wealth or the “love” of wealth. I mean, who cares other than textual critics and Bible translators?   RESPONSE: This is a very good question, and one that I get a lot.  I’ve given an answer to it before on the blog, but since it periodically reappears, I thought that maybe I should give it another shot. The first thing to emphasize is a point that I repeatedly make and that many people seem never to notice that I make (especially my fundamentalist friends who very much object to my views about textual criticism):  of the many hundreds of thousands of textual variants that we have among our manuscripts, most of them are completely unimportant and insignificant and don’t matter for twit.   Why should [...]

Jesus’ Anger in Mark 1:41

So far in this thread I have argued that Mark 1:41 originally said that Jesus got angry when the leper asked him to heal him; and I have shown that elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel Jesus gets angry in context involving healing. And so: if Jesus got angry when the leper asked for healing in Mark 1:41 – what exactly was he angry about? Over the years numerous interpretations have been proposed, and some of these explanations are highly creative. Some interpreters have argued that Jesus became angry because he knew that the man would disobey orders, spreading the news of his healing and making it difficult for Jesus to enter into the towns of Galilee because of the crowds. The problem with this view is that it seems unlikely that Jesus would be angry about what the man would do later -- before he actually did it! Other have suggested that he was angry because the man was intruding on his preaching ministry, keeping him from his primary task. Unfortunately, nothing in the text says [...]

Luke 3:22 — More on What Luke Would Have Written

In yesterday’s post I started to discuss the “intrinsic probabilities” that can help us establish the text of Luke 3:22.  This kind of probability looks to determine what an author himself (as opposed to a scribe copying his text) would have been likely to write.  That is determined by considering his writing style, vocabulary, theological views, narrative interests and so on, and determining which of the available readings fits with these established patterns of usage better than the other(s).   What I’’ll be arguing in this post, again, taken from The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, is that the reading found only in Codex Bezae coincides more closely with the view of Jesus’ baptism that can be found elsewhere in the two-volume work of Luke-Acts.  The first paragraph below is the one that ended yesterday’s post, to provide some context for the following observations. ***************************************************************************************************************** More fruitful is an assessment of the other references to Jesus’ baptism throughout Luke’s work, “backward glances,” as it were, that provide clues concerning what happened at that point of the narrative. [...]

Luke 3:22 — What Luke Himself Would Have Written

In my previous post I began to look at the “internal” evidence that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel said the words that are found among Greek manuscripts *only* in Codex Bezae of the early fifth century: “You are my son, today I have begotten you,” as opposed to the words found in all the other Greek manuscripts (the voice as recorded also in Mark): “You are my son, in you I am well-pleased.” If you’ll recall, there are two kinds of internal evidence that scholars consider: “transcriptional probabilities” (which reading would a scribe more likely have preferred and therefore created by changing the text) and “intrinsic probabilities (which reading would the author have been more likely to have written originally). The last post was on transcriptional probabilities showing that the reading in Codex Bezae is probably the older form of the text. Now in this blog and the next one (or two) I will discuss the “intrinsic probabilities,” which point in the same direction. All of these arguments are meant to work [...]

More Arguments over Luke 3:22

Yesterday I posted some comments that were designed to show why knowing the Patristic evidence is so valuable in establishing what the oldest form of the text of the NT was. My illustration was from Luke 3:22, where the voice from heaven says different things, depending on which witnesses you read. The fifth century manuscript Codex Bezae is the *only* Greek manuscript that has the reading “You are my son, Today I have begotten you.” The Greek manuscripts that were produced before Bezae, and all those produced afterwards, have a different reading, the one you will find in most Bible translations, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” The point of my post was not to give conclusive evidence that the reading found in virtually all the manuscripts is the *wrong* one; it was to show that Patristic evidence is valuable because it shows that in the second and third Christian centuries, it was the *other* reading (the one that eventually came to be found in Codex Bezae) that was most [...]

Church Fathers and the Voice at Jesus’ Baptism

In my previous post I argued that the quotations of the New Testament in the writings of the later church fathers can help both to establish the earliest form of the text and to determine when and where the text came to be changed in the process of its transmission. I indicated that I might give an example of how that works, and that’s what this post is all about. I have taken a couple of paragraphs from my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture to illustrate the point. The passage I am discussing here is a very important one. It has to do with what the voice said from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. In virtually all the Greek manuscripts of Luke – hundreds of them – the voice says “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.”  But in one – count them, one – manuscript of the early fifth century the voice instead says “You are my beloved Son, Today I have begotten [...]

Textual Problems in the Apostolic Fathers 1

In my previous two posts I discussed how I was asked to do a new edition of the Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library. In the previous post I mentioned several difficulties confronting anyone doing a bi-lingual edition of a text. Among other things, there is the problem of knowing what to print as the text to be translated. The problem is that (a) we do not have the original texts of any of the Apostolic Fathers (just as we do not have the originals of any book of the New Testament, or of the Hebrew Bible, or, well, of any book from the ancient world) and (b) the copies we have all differ from one another. And so which copies do we trust? For each of the apostolic fathers there are different sets of problems along these lines, because these writings were not circulated, before the 17th century, as a group, but separately, for the most part. And so, manuscripts that have the Letters of Ignatius do not also have the Martyrdom of [...]

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