Manuscripts and changes made

Not only do we not have access to the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals.  We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the originals.  What we have a re copies made later – much alter.  In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later.  And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places.  As we will see later in his book, these copies different from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are.  Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the new Testament.  Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.  A good portion of them simply show us that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most people today (and they didn’t even have dictionaries, let alone spell check).  Even so, what are we to make of all these differences?   If one wants to insist that God inspirited the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t ‘have the very words of scripture?  In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately.  (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

We do not have even one fragment of the gospels from the first century.  We must work on second century, and even much later, copies of the gospels to discern what the author may have written… We text critics of the New Testament have grudgingly been forced to admit that many times scribes, who were copying the books of the New Testament, deliberately alerted the text.  Sometimes the alterations were for doctrinal reasons, sometimes they were caused by what seems to have been an embarrassing saying or episode.  Often it was to “correct” the text in light of more recent theologies and Christologies. (from “The Good and Evil Serpent” by Professor Reverend James Charlesworth of Princeton University)

Ancient texts of all sorts were routinely corrupted, both accidentally and intentionally, through the largely uncontrolled process of their transcription, transmission and use, so that anyone who valued ad document took pains to correct it and certify its accuracy, though this was difficult and largely conjectural endeavor.  Moreover, the revision of texts in accordance with theological interests was relatively common in the second century.  (Professor Harry Gamble)

“Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature,” writes Bart Ehrman, “is the degree to which it was forged.” The Homilies and Recognitions of Clement; Paul’s letters to and from Seneca; Gospels by Peter, Thomas, and Philip; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, letters by Peter and Paul in the New Testament–all forgeries. To cite just a few examples.  … … Christian authors forged documents in order to lend their ideas a veneer of authority in literary battles waged with pagans, Jews, and, most importantly, with one another in internecine disputes over doctrine and practice. In some instances a forger directed his work against views found in another forgery, creating thereby a “counter-forgery.” Ehrman’s evaluation of polemical forgeries starts with those of the New Testament (nearly half of whose books make a false authorial claim) up through the Pseudo-Ignatian epistles and the Apostolic Constitutions at the end of the fourth century.  (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest extant Gospel, and is the basis of Matthew and Luke. However, there are indications that the version which became canonical and is first attested by manuscripts from the third century is not the only form of the text that was in circulation… (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

The two most important textual problems in Mark’s gospel concern its beginning and its end.  The words “Son of God”… in 1:1 are omitted in a few important early manuscripts.  … But the words could have been accidentally omitted; they are found in the majority of early and significant manuscripts, and the inclusion of the phrase fits well with Mark’s Christology… The ending of Mark’s gospel poses a quite different and more severe problem… The arguments against this ending being original are very strong.   (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

The oldest Gospel, Mark, written forty years later around AD 70, ends with Jesus
being laid in his tomb, never mentioning the Resurrection.  Mark’s account of the resurrection was a later addition.  (Simon Sebag Montefiore – Professor University of Buckingham)

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).  Footnote from “The Bible Gateway” site reads “Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God“.

I think that there are clear examples of
instances where Luke has redacted Mark, and that some of those Lukan redactions
of Mark appear in the Gospel of Thomas.
I argued this in my NTS article (2011) [see bibliographic info listed above].
One of the things which strikes me most is that in three cases, Luke introduces
an element into Mark, and then Thomas expands
upon that Lukan element. So for example, in the image of the “light under the
bushel”, Luke adds that the light is “for all who go in”, and Thomas expands it further to “all who go in and come out” (GTh 33); Luke adds a
single “perhaps” into the parable of the wicked tenants, then Thomas includes this and adds another again (GTh 65); Luke adds a reference to prayer into the controversy about fasting, and Thomas includes this addition, and adds an extra reference to prayer (GTh 104). Again, I don’t think this is a matter necessarily of Thomas having read Luke (though this is impossible to rule out), but it reflects Thomas or his sources having known the stories in their Lukan forms, and elaborating on them further. So there is a gradual expansion, in these sayings at least, from Mark to Luke to Thomas, which I don’t think can be read in any other order (unless one denies Markan priority).  (Simon Gathercole – Cambridge)

The earliest known collection of Paul’s writings is found in a manuscript known as P46, written on papyrus about AD 200.   P46 contains most of the Pauline letters (including Hebrews!), but it, too, does not include the Pastorals or Philemon.  (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

As to the role played by memory and oral transmission, one need only cite a few examples of early patristic quotations of passages from the intracanonical Gospels to appreciate the inexactitudes often encountered. In Apologia 1 15:1-3 Justin Martyr cites Matt 5:28-29 (influenced by Mark 9:47), 32; and 19:12, and not one quotation is verbatim (in the extant manuscripts). (Rev. James Charlesworth – Professor Princeton Theological Seminary)

The earliest New Testament fragment known to us is a fragment of John p52, dating from about AD 130 and containing a few words form John 18.  Two other papyrus witnesses, both codices, spring from the end of the second century: p66 includes most of John 1-14 and parts of the remaining chapters, while p75 contains most of Luke, followed by John 1-11 and parts of chapters 12-15.  From the beginning of the third century comes p45, which contains parts of all four gospels plus Acts. Though the mutilated state of the manuscript ensures that no book is complete.  (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

Other problems bear on textual matters, such as the question of whether the so-called Western type of New Testament text was created in order to be the vehicle of the emerging canonical text; and which forms of text, amid a multitude of textual variations among the manuscripts, should be regarded today as the canonical text. (Bruce Metzger – Professor Princeton)

Unlike the Gospels of John and Mark, there are no indications, internal or external, that an originally Hebrew or Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew underwent substantial alteration before the emergence of the archetype(s) of the text upon which the extant manuscript tradition depends. We do not know the author of this Gospel. That the original composition of the Matthew’s Gospel was in Greek and that it depended upon earlier Greek gospel sources, makes it highly unlikely that Jesus’ disciple Levi / Matthew wrote the Gospel which bears his name. (Helmut Koester – Professor Harvard)

we do not have an original manuscript of a single book in the Bible (technically called the Autograph)… It is amazing how fundamentalism.. talks so confidently about the inerrant, perfect, infallible character of the original Autographs of the Bible when no one has seen one for more than eighteen centuries. Moreover, it is clear that originally no one thought the wording was perfect since copyists, translators, and authors had little fear of changing it. (Leander Keck – Professor Yale)

One thing that scholars have learned about the Bible, for example, is that we don’t really know what it consisted of in ancient times. The Hebrew Bible read by Jews today… is only one of several ancient versions of the biblical text. One of the goals of secular biblical scholarship, a project known as –text-criticism, is to try to reconstruct from these different versions the content of the original biblical text before it was altered by changes introduced over the course of its transmission. That goal has proven elusive, however, and what text-critics have found instead is that there is no such thing as an original biblical text. It is fluid as far back as we can trace it. (Steven Weitzman – Professor Stanford)

Since the writings which now constitute the New Testament were for long not agreed to be sacred, they were repeatedly edited revised and elaborated. The story of Jesus and his sayings was changed according to the context and interests of successive believers. So different sets of believers read and transmitted variant texts… Some additions, revisions and deletions to early Christian writings were on a much grander scale. The intrusion of seven spurious letters into the Pauline corpus, the helpfully compression fo two of Paul’s letters to make 2 Corinthians, and the clumsy addition of revised endings to the gospels of Mark (16:9-20) and John (21) – both destined to include extra post-resurrectional appearances of Jesus to the disciples – all illustrate the fluidity and porosity of these texts before they became canonical… The easy alterability of the earliest writings about Jesus, by addition, omission or redaction, indicate that for all the sacredness of their subject, the gospels themselves were not regarded as sacrosanct. Or put another way, for a century or more after Jesus’ death, Christian groups existed, and flourished, without the New Testament. The existence of the gospel of Mark, probably the earliest of the canonical gospels, did not present Matthew and Luke from changing what Mark had written , or from writing their own gospels…(Keith Hopkins – Professor Cambridge)

One of the many curious things about Jesus’ teaching is that though resurrection was a well-known topic of debate at the time we only have one short comment of his on the subject, in reply to the question from the Sadducees — a comment which is itself notoriously cryptic, like some of its companion pieces in the synoptic tradition. Apart from that, there are the short repeated predictions of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, which many of course assume are vaticinia ex eventu [i.e. inserted later], and two or three other cryptic references. (NT Wright – Professor St Andrews and Oxford)

Wikipedia link for vaticinia ex eventu

Many, if not most, gospel critics are persuaded that the three passion predictions do not come from Jesus but are Christian formulations in which history after the fact is expressed as prediction before the fact. (Leander E. Keck – Professor Yale)

[The Dead Sea Scrolls]  it is clear… that they represent merely one of at least three versions of the Hebrew Bible in existence at that time (different versions were known in Babylon, Palestine, and Egypt), demonstrating how fluid the situation was before the Hebrew Bible was canonized in its present form.  (Eric H. Cline – Professor George Washington, previously Stanford, Yale)

[John]  The double conclusion to the book is unmistakable. John 20.30f once concluded the Gospel.  Chapter 21 is a supplement at the end of which a group of editors mentions as the author of John 1-20 the Beloved Disciple, whose unexpected death immediately beforehand (21:20-23) is specifically discussed.  In 21.25 there follows a second conclusion to the book by an individual redactor which is based on 20.30.  It seems natural to infer further insertions by the same redactional hand in the text of the Gospel, but there is no consensus about their number and extent.  (Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz – Professors Heidelberg and Utrecht)

In Mark’s gospel “Son of God” is a much more important title than “Messiah-Christ”.  In most modern translations it occurs in the opening line.  But there is a puzzle here.  The phrase “Son of God” is not found in many important manuscripts.  Did later scribes add the phrase or omit it?  … it is just possible that a very early scribe’s eye jumped over the phrase inadvertently. … The evidence and the arguments are evenly balanced, though the early addition of the phrase is probably more likely. (Graham Stanton – Professor Cambridge)

The earliest known collection of Paul’s writings is found in a manuscript known as P46, written on papyrus about AD 200.   P46 contains most of the Pauline letters (including Hebrews!), but it, too, does not include the Pastorals or Philemon.  (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

[John] The writers responsible for the gospel no doubt knew of the stuff of which the Synoptics and other gospels were made, and may have even known one or more in its final form, but freely adapted both oral traditions and literary productions.  (Harold Attridge – Professor Yale)

Luke was writing probably 15 years, maybe 20 years after Mark, and actually knew the Gospel of Mark. He reproduced a good bit of Mark’s Gospel in his Gospel, in the Gospel of Luke. What is striking is that he took out this verse that – where it says that where Jesus says that he’s come to give his life as a ransom for many. Luke took out that verse, and when Luke portrays the crucifixion of Jesus, there’s nothing about the crucifixion scene that makes you think that this death is meant to be an atonement for sin. In fact, Luke also wrote a second volume that we have in the New Testament. He also wrote the Book of Acts, which talks about the spread of Christianity through the Roman Empire. And there are a number of sermons in Acts in which the apostles are trying to convert people. And in these sermons, they talk about the death of Jesus, but they never mention that Jesus’s death is an atonement for sin. Instead, what they say is that Jesus’s death was a huge miscarriage of justice. The people who did it are guilty before God, and they need to turn to God so that God – in repentance – so that God will forgive them. In other words, the way the death of Jesus works in Luke is not that it brings atonement for sin. It’s the occasion that people have for realizing their sinfulness so that they can repent, and God will forgive them. [interviewer - So that's a pretty fundamental difference in the perception of the symbolic significance of Christ's death] Absolutely. And it’s not the only – these are not the only two views. The early Christians had a lot of different views about the significance of Jesus’s death. The thing that made them all Christian, I think, is that all of them thought that Jesus’s death, in some way, was important for human beings’ standing before God. But as it turns out, there are some groups of Christians – in the first, second century – who didn’t think that the death of Jesus actually mattered that much for salvation. (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)

This summary of 3 Enoch is based on the contents of manuscripts A and B. The form of the work in these two manuscripts shows clear signs of editing; if we exclude the patently additional chapters 23-24 and 48BCD, then the overall structure of the work is reasonably coherent, and thematically related materials have been grouped together. It is evident, however. on closer investigation, that 3 Enoch has arisen through the combination of many separate traditions: it tends to break down into smaller “self-contained” units which probably existed prior to “their incorporation into the present work. (P. Alexander – Professor University of Manchester)

3 Enoch-like a number of other Merkabah texts-is attributed to Rabbi Ishmael, the famous Palestinian scholar who died shortly before the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba War in A.D. 132 (see 1:1, n. b). Though some of the traditions of 3 Enoch can be traced back to Ishmael’s time (and even earlier), there can be no question of accepting this attribution at Its face value; the work IS a pseudepigraphon and Ishmael is simply the master whose authority the author or redactor of 3 Enoch wished to claim.  (P. Alexander – Professor University of Manchester)

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