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“Originals” for NT Gospels??

February 5, 2014

In reading for review the recent (mammoth) multi-author volume, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research:  Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, eds. B. D. Ehrman & M. W. Holmes (Leiden:  Brill, 2013), one of the things that caught my attention was in Michael Holmes’ contribution, “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’” (pp. 637-88).  In a section of this essay he considers the question (posed by David Parker) whether the NT Gospels are “the kinds of texts that have originals” (p. 670; the section in question = 670-77).

Holmes’s response is to compare the nature and extent of textual variation evidenced in extant manuscripts of the Gospels and a number of other writings, including some other early Christian ones.  He shows that, in comparison with the kinds of textual variation (and even dislocation) that one finds in texts such as Shepherd of Hermas. or Life of Adam and Eve (and we might also include Gospel of Thomas), the NT Gospels seem to have a greater measure of textual fixity.

To be sure, as Holmes freely notes, there are many textual variants evidenced in the early manuscripts of the NT Gospels, many indeed.  But these, he points out rightly, are typically variations in such things as word-order (e.g., in phrases), tenses of verbs, individual words, etc.  Whereas in the comparison texts, we have much larger textual variation, such as re-arrangement of material (as reflected, e.g., in comparing the Greek fragments of Thomas with the later Coptic text), the compilation of composite texts (again, Hermas and Didache are examples of the latter), and such.  That is, with the Gospels we appear to have lots of small variations, but not much in the way of the larger types of variation reflected in some other writings.

This leads him to propose that the Gospels seem to display “what one may term microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability” (p. 674).  I find this handy terminology and a helpful distinction very much worth testing and using in considering the textual transmission of early Christian writings.

The closest that we get to any “macrolevel” variants in the Gospels are the “long ending” to the Gospel of Mark (i.e., Mark 16:9-20 in the “King James” Version) and the “Pericope of the Adulterous Woman” (i.e., John 7:53–8:11).  But the latter does not appear in any extant witnesses earlier than ca. 400 CE.  As for the Markan “long ending” (and the other alternative endings), this too isn’t evidenced in our earliest witnesses of Mark, and, in any case, the main body of Mark doesn’t show any disturbance or re-arrangement of material.

Holmes’s essay is a thoughtful engagement with the question of whether it is feasible to pursue the traditional aim of reconstructing the earliest extant text of the NT writings.  I commend it to anyone else seriously interested in the matter.

For a somewhat similar argument, see this recent study:  K. Martin Heide, “Assessing the Stability of the Transmitted Texts of the New Testament and the Shepherd of Hermas,” in The Reliability of the New Testament:  Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 111-45.

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57 Comments
  1. Yes, I agree that’s a much better example – and especially relevant for Gospel studies. The Protevangelium of James would be another good example, since either one version is substantially expanded or the other is substantially abbreviated.

  2. ljhooge permalink

    In part I wonder whether the question of whether or not the gospel texts had some changes early on in their development might depend on whether or not they were viewed as authoritative, or inspired. Once they achieved that, I would suspect that their copying would become somewhat more fixed. ??? On the other hand, I wonder – if there were changes made to the text early on – whether or not we should expect to see more variants later on down the road – which we don’t seem to, at least not significant ones. ???

    • Hmm. I’m not so confident of your assumptions/claims. “Macrolevel” changes seem to be more difficult once a text comes to be “owned” by a group (i.e., read in corporate worship), but “microlevel” changes evidently still take place (as shown by the manuscript evidence). On the other hand, the largest variants (e.g., Pericope of the Adulterous Woman, long-ending of Mark) aren’t attested in manuscripts earlier than the 5th century. So, apparently, some significant variations continued or were transmitted for several centuries, well after the NT writings had been made a canon.

      • ljhooge permalink

        I think I would agree with your comment regarding there being less chance of macro level changes occurring to a text once that text is “owned” by a group (read in corporate worship?). For me, this would be another level of ‘reverence’ for a text (becoming authoritative or viewed as inspired might be steeper levels of reverence as well?). I’m just curious if there’s any evidence of this sort of respect / reverence given to a text once it’s been ‘received’ by a group, perhaps based on the text’s source (ie., written by someone who is respected; an authority), content, or perhaps rarity of communication?

      • What we have is the sort of data cited by Holmes (cited in my posting): We have some texts (that we know were beginning to be read in churches and treated as “scripture) that appear to have a comparative “macrolevel” stability (with lots of “microlevel” variants), and other texts that suffered comparatively greater “macrolevel” variation. As to why certain texts came to be treated as “scripture” (your question about authorship or content, etc.), that’s another issue that I can do justice to in a blog comment.

  3. Is the last chapter of the Gospel according to John an example of a macrolevel editing of a text or was that chapter in the initial state from which copying proceeded?

    • Those of us who think that John 21 was added to an earlier form of GJohn, the “initial text” from which the copying process began from a form with chap 21.

  4. Robert permalink

    Thanks, Larry, very insightful comments. Do we have any manuscripts of Pauline letters that we know predated collections of Pauline letters?

    • Precise dating of manuscripts by palaeography is very difficult, but most think that our earliest Pauline manuscript is probably “P46″ (the Chester Beatty Pauline codex), which is typically dated ca. 200-250 CE, and it is a collection of Paul’s letters. The earliest reference to such a collection is, of course, in 2 Peter 3:15-16 (“all his letters” suggests some sort of collection), where they are already referred to as “scriptures”. 2 Peter is typically dated ca. 70-120 CE.

  5. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Isn’t the truth simply that we just don’t know how fluid the text was prior to the earliest manuscripts of the second century? It may have been highly stable or highly unstable at a macro as well as a micro level during that undocumented stage, there is no real way to tell. Conservative Christians may hope that the text was stable between composition and the earliest witnesses, but what distinguishes that hope from wishful thinking?

    2 Corinthians of course is a classic example of a text that clearly had an “interesting” transmission history just by looking at its extant form. If that text could have undergone radical re-shaping, all during the period prior to the earliest textual witnesses, then others could have also.

    • No, Donald. The “truth” isn’t at all what you claim. (And I thought you didn’t hold that there is any “truth”, posturing as a devout Nietzchean. Second thoughts? Inconsistency?)
      The truth (as we know it) is that we have manuscripts from the late 2nd century and early 3rd century that exhibit a readily recognizable text of NT writings, the variants no more than we would expect in the copying process. So, the most reasonable inference (which most scholars in the question hold) is that the copying tendencies exhibited in the manuscripts is indicative of the copying that they continue.
      As for 2 Corinthians, those theories postulate an assembling of two or more Pauline letters (so all of it authentic Paul), and at a point when the Pauline corpus was being assembled (late lst or early 2nd cent CE). This is not copying but a hypothecized editorial work prior to any copying (which is a convenient claim to make, as there is no evidence of it in the extant manuscripts).

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        I am using the word “true” in the homely sense of the word described by Richard Rorty: “true is a word we apply to statements about which we agree.” I have no illusions that other perspectives are possible.

        Helmut Koester expressed the view over two decades ago that the text of the NT was at its most fluid in the earliest period of its transmission before there are any extant witnesses. Haven’t many NT textual critics subsequently agreed with that view as the common sense view? Not conservative ones like Daniel B Wallace, but scholars like David Parker. It’s the reason why the traditional goal of the “original text” in TC experienced its crisis.

        How is it a “reasonable inference” that because the text was stable after c. 200 C.E. that it was therefore stable before that period as well? That just doesn’t follow at all. That’s like saying that because I’ve not sucked my thumb since the age of two it’s therefore highly unlikely that I sucked my thumb before the age of two either.

      • Donald, Koester’s view has NOT been affirmed by most NT textual critics, and Parker’s view isn’t the same. You’re confused (as often seems the case). In an article I’ve cited a couple of times now, I gave a refutation of Koester that has also been affirmed/seconded by others (e.g., Holmes): Larry W. Hurtado, “The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collections and Canon,” in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies, ed. J. W. Childers and D. C. Parker (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-27.
        It’s a perfectly reasonable inference that the copying tendencies apparent in our earliest extant manuscripts reflect tendencies in the prior copying. And it’s an inference supported by many (as I often say, I may be wrong but I’m not alone in the views I take). These tendencies also roughly match those observed by Classicists and papyrologists working with classical literary texts (e.g., E. G. Turner), i.e., both a “popular” and freer tendency (producing many small changes) and a more cautious/careful tendency (showing greater effort and success at reproducing the exemplar being copied). So, there’s no special-pleading involved. (Oh, and I’m pleased for you that you no longer such your thumb.)

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Thanks. ;-)

        I know Parker’s views about the “living text” and that variants should be viewed as interesting and meaningful in their own right. Additionally, in view of many of his comments about how far back the text can be traced it is reasonable to place him nearer to Ehrman and Koester than Wallace or yourself.

        For example: “The argument was not about stemmatolgy and the reconstruction of he earliest text attainable (I took the provisional view that the earliest text attained by such methods could not be shown to be older than the late second century).” (“The New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts”, page 338)

        On page 184 he elaborated:

        “I hear the common objection, ‘But surely we have more or less what the author wrote; we can tell his style; there may be a few problems of detail, but what of that?’ The answer is what is available is not the authorial text, but the product of a more complicated process in which the author’s writings have been preserved but also to some degree changed, for better or worse, by his readers. It is not just that such a text is like a man who could play all the notes of a piano piece, but not necessarily in the right order. It is that the whole text as it emerges from the period without any surviving manuscripts is already, however subtly, the product of a process of reception and transmission.”

        Which sounds, in particular the piano analogy, like an argument for macro level changes, to use Holmes’ term, in the text in the period prior to the earliest manuscripts.

      • Donald: Oh, yes, Parker has taken a position emphasizing variation (and, as he indicates in the book you cite, this for theological reasons). But, no, the sorts of variation that he mentions and the piano analogy (which seems like different “renditions” of a given piece) is very much what Holmes (and I) would say is “microlevel”. I.e., there is no manuscript evidence of major re-arrangement of the text of certain writings, such as the Gospels. As to what might have happened before our extant manuscripts, that’s a matter for learned inference, over which learned people can differ. I’ve given my reasons for thinking it more likely that the tendencies in the earliest manuscripts are likely indicative of the tendencies in their predecessors.

  6. Dr. Hurtado,
    When you refer in your post to the “other alternative endings” besides Mark 16:9-20, precisely what other endings that don’t involve Mark 16:9-20 are you referring to? There’s the Shorter Ending; that’s one. What are the others and what MSS are they found in? Also, your statement is accurate about MSS, but inaccurate regarding witnesses, inasmuch as Justin, Epistula Apostolorum, Tatian, and Irenaeus provide second-century support for Mark 16:9-20, considerably earlier than the two Greek MSS in which Mark’s text stops at 16:8.

    • James: I was referring to the ending at Mark 16:8, and to the endings described, e.g., in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Tesetament (2nd ed), 102-6.

      • Metzger lists (1) the abrupt ending at 16:8, (2) the Shorter Ending, (3) 16:9-20, and (4) 16:9-20 with the Freer Logion between v. 14 and v. 15. So, again: what are the “other alternative endings” to which you refer? The Shorter Ending is one alternative ending. What are these other alternative endings that don’t involve 16:9-20, and in what MSS are they found?

        There aren’t any. (Btw, some of Metzger’s comments need considerable clarification.)

      • James: You’re obviously heavily invested in the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20, and so I’ll let you have your say here. We have at least three endings by your own admission. Selah!

      • James Snapp, Jr. permalink

        Since three alternative endings are attested, and since one of them is the abrupt ending at 16:8, which leaves two endings, would it be too much trouble to correct the problematic phrase in your initial post by referring to “the Markan “long ending” (and the Shorter Ending), this too isn’t evidenced in our two earliest Greek manuscripts of Mark”?

      • James, I can’t find the “problematic phrase” that you refer to in my posting. I mention the “long ending” as absent from our earliest manuscripts. But I don’t use the phrase “Shorter ending”.

  7. Adam gale permalink

    Here is an Islamic contribution on the originality of the text of the New Testament through an in-depth investigation of the veracity of the old witnesses and the early history of the transmission of the text (“the obscure zone”). It takes the side of Eldon Epp and William Petersen thesis. The book was released in 2013: “Hunting for the Word of God: the quest for the original text of the New Testament and the Qur’an in light of textual and historical criticism ” . http://www.huntingforthewordofgod.com/

    • Adam: Epp and Petersen don’t espouse the same view! You’re confused. Epp (who, by the way, was my PhD supervisor) actually finds in the early papyri evidence of the sort of copying tendencies that we see attested in the later NT manuscripts as well. So, no particularly “wild” period of trackless waste in the 2nd century. Petersen (rest his soul) acknowledged that the earliest manuscripts exhibited a relatively stable NT text, but tried to argue against that evidence by invoking “citations” of NT texts in early church fathers. As I’ve noted for some years now, his argument confuses the protocols of ancient citation-practices with the protocols of ancient copying.
      Finally, books such as the one you cite are really regrettable expressions of inter-religious rivalry, not really scholarhsip. The author is an unknown figure in NT textual criticism, and the book is clearly religious polemics. The claim that the Qur’an has been miraculously transmitted without variation is . . . well, a religious claim, not one based on scholarly grounds. All texts copied by hand, ALL texts, have suffered both accidental and deliberate changes. That’s just the fact.

      • Sean permalink

        *As I’ve noted for some years now, his argument confuses the protocols of ancient citation-practices with the protocols of ancient copying.*

        Larry, is there an article or chapter that you can recommend that discusses this in more detail? I find the distinction fascinating and would love to explore it further.

      • A place you can start is this book: Christopher D. Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series, no. 74 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)..
        As Stanley shows, Roman-era authors typically quoted texts very loosely, deliberately, except when arguing over their meaning. This was a convention, which apparently showed cleverness by the writer and treated the readers as capable of catching the reference.
        For copying practices, we have the growing number of studies of . . . copies, and what they show. The main thing to note: Whatever their skill at doing so, copyists typically focused on copying the text. They made accidental errors, and perhaps some small deliberate changes (e.g., word-order). But copyists didn’t take the liberties with texts that authors did in citing them.

  8. Geoff Hudson permalink

    Larry, the text of Mark is full of indications that it has been edited. In chapter 1, John is introduced abruptly completely out of the blue. John does not know Jesus’s name, and the editor has not worked out how John knew Jesus. Luke corrects this by having Jesus and John as relatives. John is relegated to being only a baptiser in water, but Jesus will baptise in the Holy Spirit. There is no indication when people will be baptised in the Spirit – Pentecost had not been worked out either. The editor has decided where Jesus is to come from, but there are no details of Jesus’s birth, as in Luke.

    The editor incorporates some dramatic details emphasising Jesus’s superiority to John. Then the editor has John removed from the picture and imprisoned, but gives no indication as to who put him in prison or why he was put there, or why he was executed. The editor’s of Mark and the author of Josephus had not decided who was going to be responsible for John’s death. Between them they got the order of the deaths of Jesus and John the opposite way around. This was publishing ‘on the fly’. At the beginning of Mark, one could be forgiven for expecting John to be the main character. John is used to introduce Jesus, and then it is goodbye John

    • Geoff: You’re confusing things. First, if Mark exhibits some putatively clumsy editing or story-telling, that isn’t the kind of “macrolevel” variation that Holmes describes.
      But, second, you’re reading of the text of Mark fails on several counts. For one thing, Mark clearly presumes some knowledge of at least some of the events and characters that he narrates, as is commonly recognized among analysts of the text. so, e.g., the Baptist can be introduced without much explanation, and “the boat” later in the narrative, and Pilate (15:1) without explanation of who he was.
      And bringing in Josephus simply means that our sources don’t always agree. So? Again, that’s not “macrolevel” variation in Mark.
      So, stay on the topic, please. We’re done with this matter.

      • Geoff Hudson permalink

        Larry, my understanding of ‘macrolevel’ is a ‘large’ area of text. On this basis, I would say my little exegesis fits the definition of ‘macrolevel’ perfectly. What does Holmes mean? He is like many academics who invent a psuedo language (jargon) that does little to help when ordinary language will suffice..

      • If you want to know what Holmes means, read his essay. As a short reiteration, however, “macrolevel” changes are the sort that we see, e.g., in the manuscripts of GThomas, where material is re-arranged. We don’t seem to have this evidenced in the Gospels.

  9. Jason BeDuhn faced a similar challenge recently in reconstructing Marcion’s NT from references to it in polemical works. He makes the point in The First New Testament that too many historians accepted Tertullian’s claim that Marcion “mutilated” the text, even though Tertullian’s response was itself anachronistic, assuming a complete canon from which Marcion could have deleted whole segments of text. BeDuhn’s review of the sources suggests otherwise. I think he would agree with the gist of the argument that we can be reasonably sure of content if we are willing to see that wording variants are not always the determining factor. I’m saying that while biting my lip, though, because I don’t want at all to advocate total ignorance of such details!

    • Cassandra: Scholars don’t typically assume “a complete canon” of the NT by the time of Marcion. The NT canon wasn’t “complete” (or the 26 books in the familiar list) until the late 4th century or later. But most scholars of Christian origins judge that there was a collection of Paul’s letters already circulating (the extent of which is uncertain, perhaps 7, perhaps 10 letters??), and that the four familiar Gospels were already circulating and were widely treated as scripture. The whole thrust of Marcion’s stance was to remove “antitheses” that he saw, and smooth out difficulties. So, e.g., no OT, only one true apostolic voice for him (Paul), only one valid Gospel (Luke). Such a stance in fact makes sense only as a reaction against what he regarded as a troubling combination of differing texts.
      As to the other question of whether Marcion also “mutilated” the texts that he accepted. that remains under discussion. But most still think that Marcion probably did do some editing, to remove what he regarded as distorting things (e.g., reference to the OT).

  10. The Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache are generally regarded as composite texts in the sense that scholars postulate that parts of them pre-existed as distinct texts before being combined as the texts we have. But do we have manuscripts that reflect this compositeness? I wasn’t aware of that. (We only have one MS of the Didache, though we have later works that incorporated all or part of it.) If we’re just talking about theories of composition, then of course there have been theories of composition of the Gospels that do the same, and indeed a large majority of scholars (not including me) regard John 21 as a later addition to the Gospel. (I believe there is one Coptic MS that omits this chapter.)

    • Richard: Granted, as to Didache, we don’t (to my knowledge) have any manuscripts early enough (2nd/3rd centuries) to adjudicate the widely-held view that it is in familiar form a composite text.
      In the case of Hermas, however, we now have (by latest count) portions of 11 copies in MSS dated to the 2nd/3rdcenturies. One of them (P.Oxy 4706) has bits of the Vision section and the Mandates. The others all only have bits of this or that of what are thought to be the components that form our familiar text. See the recent analysis by Malcolm Choat & Rachel Yuen-Collingridge,”The Egyptian Hermas: The Shepherd in Egypt before Constantine,” in Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach, eds. T. J. Kraus & T. Nicklas (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 191-211.
      We do have to distinguish between possible “macrolevel” editing of texts prior to their “initial” state from which copying proceeded (e.g., GJohn was apparently in its present form at the outset of the copying process), and the major changes that some texts underwent in the copying/transmission process. It’s the latter that Holmes was talking about.

      • From what you say about the MSS of Hermas I cannot see how they are evidence of macrolevel editing after the state “from which copying proceeded.” How do we know that these fragments are of copies that contained less than the whole text we have?

      • Richard, We don’t “know” this empirically, of course. But that, with one exception (P. Oxy 4706), all the other fragmentary MSS contain only portions of Visions, or Mandates, or Similitudes, is taken as suggesting this, as judged, e.g., in the article I cited by Choat & Yuen-Collingridge.

      • I took a look at Choat and Y-C. There is one MS that certainly contained only the Visions (along with other Christian texts): Bodmer 38, which is IV/V cent. At that date it is surely likely to be a deliberate copying of only the Visions from a copy of the whole of the Shepherd. Since the three parts of the Shepherd are so obviously distinct parts each of which would make good sense on its own, I don’t see how we could ever tell whether a copy containing only one or two of these parts derived from the parts before they were combined or simply selected from the combined text of all three. One of the early papyri contains only Vision 1. It seems very unlikely that this indicates Vision 1 originally circulated separately from the other Visions. So this looks to me like a case of a theory of composition dictating the interpretation of the MS evidence. The theory of composition may well be right, but it seems to me we need to be really careful about what the manuscript evidence actually shows or doesn’t show. Suppose two small and very early fragments of John’s Gospel turned up, and that they came from two parts of the Gospel that some source-critics assign to different sources. It would be rash to take them as evidence for that source-critical hypothesis. It seems to me that clear evidence from manuscripts for macrolevel editing is likely to be rather rare.

      • Your caution noted, Richard. But, to cite another instance, the fragments of three Greek manuscripts of GThomas exhibit re-arrangement of sayings (in comparison with the later Coptic text), not simply variants in the sayings, suggesting that GThomas underwent the sort of “macrolevel” changes that Holmes refers to.

  11. S.F. permalink

    My main question regarding this is how at the earliest level there was major, substantial rewriting and textual editing, since Matthew and Luke substantially rewrote Mark. Do we have another example in classical literature where we end up with three versions of the same work that are rewritten to this kind of degree, and yet all three versions are retained (i.e., one is not picked to the exclusion of the others)? Of course, yes, after Matthew and Luke were produced, then we have no evidence of macro-fluidity, other than the harmonies that were produced like Tatian’s.

    • Other examples of texts that seem to be re-writing of earlier texts? Well, the books of Chronicles seem to re-write a good deal written earlier in the books of Kings (in the OT). And at Qumran there are examples of re-written texts too. Yet in these cases the earlier versions continued to be used along with the later ones.

      • S.F. permalink

        Yes, thanks. I was wondering about Greco-Roman classical lit, outside of the Judeo-Chrisitan tradition.

      • Is that a question?

      • S.F. permalink

        Yes, I meant it as a polite question. I don’t mind looking it up if I could figure out where to start.

      • OK. I’m not so familiar with the textual/transmission history of classical texts. We’d need to distinguish between texts that are “over-written” or re-written and texts that are themselves changed at “macrolevel”, but purport to be those texts. You might have a look at a good, detailed, history of classical literature.

  12. One could consider Matthew to be a macrolevel variant of Mark.

    • But Matthew doesn’t so present itself. Nor was it ever so regarded. Instead, both texts continued to be copied and treated as discrete texts.

  13. Robert permalink

    Interesting. I wonder if the NT writings underwent an authoritative editing process prior to any surviving manuscripts. Or was there a greater presumptive authority attributed to the writings that were eventually to be included in the NT. Other potential explanations?

    • There was no ecclesiastical structure sufficient in the 2nd century to have executed some “authoritative editing” that could have imposed some form of the text early enough to have prevented any other form from surviving. In an essay published a few years ago, I’ve proposed that there were various forces that generated a comparatively greater fixity for some texts, esp. those read in corporate worship: see Larry W. Hurtado, “The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collections and Canon,” in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies, ed. J. W. Childers and D. C. Parker (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-27.

      • Robert permalink

        Wouldn’t the collection of the letters of Paul into a single book of several letters be the product of an “ecclesiastical structure sufficient … to have executed some ‘authoritative editing’ that could have imposed some form of the text early enough to have prevented any other form from surviving”? If none of our Pauline manuscripts predate such a collection, then we might plausibly imagine some editing being done at the time of collection. Should we assume there were several independent collections or do all of our manuscripts ultimately derive from one collection?

      • Robert: No, a collection of Paul’s letters didn’t need an “ecclesiastical structure” exercising authority. Paul’s letters were being exchanged and copied, it seems, from a very early point. So, the collecting of them likely began early too. On this and many other matters about early Christian texts, I recommend (as I often have) as a basic study Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

      • Robert permalink

        I guess my real question is not really about authoritative structures, but whether or not it is plausible that all of our current Pauline manuscripts might ultimately trace back to one collection of letters that might have been edited by the collector?

      • It’s interesting that already by the time of 2 Peter (ca. 70-120CE??), both the author and those he regards as quasi-hertetical appear to have a collection of Paul’s letters and both appear to treat them as scripture (hence the author’s complaints about the other guys “twisting” Paul to their own ideas). Given the geographical, ethnic and theological diversity of earliest Christianity, it’s perhaps less likely that all our manuscripts come from one ultimate copy of Paul’s collected letters, in my view.

    • Donald Jacobs permalink

      This is indeed David Trobisch’s contention in his book “The First Edition of the New Testament”.

      • But Trobisch’s view is commonly judged a “maverick” view that hasn’t persuaded. But it does show that (contra conspiracy theorists) the field is wide open to various proposals being published.

  14. Would the Western text of Acts still fit under the rubric of microlevel fluidity / macrolevel stability? The variations there seem a bit more significant (e.g. entire phrases and sentences added). Or is those variations much later like the longer ending of Mark and the Pericope of the Adulterous Woman?

    • Holmes would seem to regard the “Western” text of Acts as comprising still an example of plentiful “microlevel” fluidity. We don’t have narrative re-arrangements, or serious dislocations, or anything larger than a sentence or so as to the extent of individual variants.

  15. Steve Ulrich permalink

    Just as a matter of clarification for your readers, you are referring to the 2013 edition, because there is a 1995 edition of “Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis,” and the first edition is not as long as the 2013 2nd edition and doesn’t include the Michael Holmes’ article.

    • Sorry for any confusion, but the title as cited specifies it as second edition (2013).

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