There were other organizational dilemmas that I faced in doing my textbook. As I indicated, I decided to begin with chapters on the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish world of the New Testament, and – before getting to the Gospels themselves – a chapter on the controversies in early Christianity that led to the formation of the 27-book NT canon. But there was one other rather fundamental issue. If I was talking about the canon of the NT before getting into a discussion of the NT books – shouldn’t I also talk about the text of the NT, that is, the surviving manuscripts of the NT, before discussing individual books?
Many readers on the blog will be familiar with the textual problems posed by the New Testament. In broad outline, the problems are no different from those posed by every book, or sets of books, from the ancient world, whether the Hebrew Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the plays of Euripides, the writings of Plato on down to the plays and essays of Seneca to the writings of Galen to the writings of Marcus Aurelius, and on and on and on. We don’t have any originals.
For all these authors, and in fact for every author from antiquity, what we have are copies made by hand. And all of these copies are much later than the originals – made from copies of copies of copies of the originals.
One of the things that makes the NT stand is that we have so *many* copies – far more than for any other book or set of books. Far, far more. The reason is not hard to figure out. Throughout the history of the West, in the years before the invention of printing, who was it who was copying the books of antiquity? It was principally Christian monks in monasteries. And what books were they copying?
Well, on occasion…
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