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Paul and Stoicism: Engberg-Pedersen Lecture

Yesterday, Professor Troels Engberg-Pedersen (University of Copenhagen) favoured us with an invited lecture:  “Paul, Stoicism, and the Material Spirit.”  He is an established scholar in Pauline studies, of course, and very well versed also in ancient Greek Philosophy.  The main emphasis in his line of publications on Paul over a number of years now has been to urge that there are elements in Paul’s thought that derive from, and make for interesting comparison with, terms and concepts that likely come from Stoicism.

In this lecture, Engberg-Pedersen focused particularly on Paul’s use of the word “spirit” (Greek:  pneuma).  He noted that in popular usage today, “spirit” and “spiritual” tend to signify an immaterial thing, and (probably rightly) he judged that this reflects the general (albeit, now highly diluted) Platonism that is one of the intellectual tributaries of Western culture.  But in Paul’s usage, “spirit” seems always to refer to something that is more substantial, and can be referred to as acting and having a real property.  Engberg-Pederson offered that in Stoic thought as well, “spirit” is more a highly refined substance rather than totally immaterial.  So, he proposes, Paul’s use of “spirit” makes for interesting comparison with Stoic usage.

Maybe.  But I wonder if we aren’t missing something else.  We don’t know, and (as Engberg-Pedersen granted) it’s unlikely that Paul had ever studied Stoicism or any of the writers connected with it.  We do know, however, that Paul was a devout and intensive reader of his Jewish scriptures (the oodles of citations and allusions alone should make that clear).  So, isn’t it actually a much more straightforward approach to consider similarities and connections between Paul’s use of “spirit” and the use of the term in those writings?  And, if we do so, I submit that we have a good deal of the basic view of what a “spirit” is that Paul seems to draw upon and develop.  You didn’t have to be (or be influenced by) a Stoic to imagine that a “spirit” was some kind of highly refined “material” or reality.

Moreover, if we take account of the apparently increasing interest in the divine/holy Spirit in Jewish writings of the period roughly contemporary with Paul (e.g., the Qumran texts), that, too, helps us understand better why the notion is so prominent in NT writings.  (As I noted in my book, God in New Testament Theology, Abingdon Press, 2010, 73-95.)

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s clear that Paul reflects some terms and concepts that likely derived originally from Stoicism. Paul’s references to a human “conscience” (Greek:  syneidesis) give us a cogent example (e.g., Romans 2:15; 9:1, and other references in Paul and other NT texts).  But in these cases, we’re likely dealing with things that, by Paul’s time, had long-since become simply part of the intellectual furniture (or cultural “groundwater”) of the day.  In short, lots of people came to think that people had a conscience and wouldn’t have been aware that to do so was a Stoic notion. There’s a danger of something like the etymological fallacy, if we aren’t careful.

So, with great admiration of Engberg-Pedersen’s knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy, and with a full readiness to read Paul in his historical context, I have to say that I find his emphasis on things Stoic to wander a bit into exaggeration.  Moreover, as evident in some of the discussion after the lecture, I was still more puzzled at some of his readings of Pauline texts.

For example, do we really have an ascetic Paul arguing against sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7?  Actually, in 7:1-7, Paul gives directions for marital sex that seem rather forthright and affirming, including the radical notion that the wife has her own conjugal rights and that her husband’s body belongs to her, just as hers belongs to him.

Granted, to “the unmarried [Greek: agamoi] and the widows,” Paul suggests (NB: suggests) that they remain so; but then freely advises re-marriage if they are unable to handle singleness (7:8-9). In the following verses, Paul conveys a “command” from “the Lord” (Jesus), however,  that married partners should not abandon their marriage (7:10-11), and then even urges that believers married to unbelievers should also treat their marriage as valid (7:12-16).  This doesn’t sound very ascetic at all, actually.

I certainly support Engberg-Pedersen’s emphasis in his lunchtime talk to students that we must go to the sources themselves, and read them again and again to ensure that we understand as well as we can.   I also genuinely acknowledge the body of work of this most cordial and engaging colleague.  Comparison’s with Stoic thought can often help us to see more clearly the specifics and distinctives in Paul’s teachings.  I reserve judgement, however, on the question of whether Paul was particularly indebted to Stoicism.  I rather doubt it, and the limits of what can be gained from comparing Paul and the Stoics may be more narrow than Engberg-Pedersen might urge.

“Ancient Christian Worship”: McGowan’s New Book

Andrew McGowan’s new book, Ancient Christian Worship:  Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2014) is now a major new resource for any who share my interest in historical origins of Christian worship practices.  (The publisher’s catalogue entry here.)  His focus is on practices, but he does include evidence of how early Christians regarded them and what these practices meant as expressions of their faith.

The scope of topics/practices covered is impressively wide, as is the time-frame covered (the first five centuries or so).  The chapter titles will indicate the topics.  After an introduction, we have “Meal:  Banquet and Eucharist” (chap. 2), “Word:  Reading and Preaching” (chap. 3), “Music:  Song and Dance” (chap. 4), “Initiation:  Baptism, Anointing, and Foot Washing” (chap. 5), “Prayer:  Hours, Ways, and Texts” (chap. 6), and “Time:  Feasts and Fasts” (chap. 7).

For me, given my own focus on the first couple of centuries or so, the larger chronological breadth of McGowan’s discussion of each of the topics covered was informative.  He cites primary texts helpfully, and shows a generally impressive familiarity with scholarly work of others.  My main emphasis, therefore, is commendation of this book to anyone interested in the early history of Christian worship practices.

But there were a few surprising disappointments.  In his treatment of baptism, McGowan doesn’t even mention that our earliest texts refer to baptism “in/into Jesus’ name” (e.g., Acts 2:38; and Paul’s allusion to this in Romans 6:3 “baptized into Christ Jesus”).  This apparently involved the ritual invocation of Jesus’ name (by the person being baptized and/or by the person administering baptism).  McGowan mentions neither this practice (strange for a work focused on practice) nor the substantial scholarly works on it.  The older, classic study was Wilhelm Heitmüller, “Im Namen Jesu”: Eine sprach-und-religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Neuen Testament, speziell zur altchristlichen Taufe, FRLANT, 1/2 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1903).  But more recently there are the several publications by Lars Hartman, especially his book:  ‘Into the Name of the Lord Jesus’: Baptism in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997); and an earlier journal article:  “Baptism `Into the Name of Jesus’ and Early Christology: Some Tentative Considerations,” Studia Theologica 28 (1974): 21-48.

As Hartman showed, the expression “in/into the name of Jesus” seems to have conveyed the notion that the person baptized came thereby into a new/special relationship with Jesus, in some sense under Jesus’ ownership.  Hartman concluded that the Greek expression translates an earlier Semitic expression, meaning that the practice of baptism “in/into Jesus’ name” goes back into the earliest circles of emergent Christianity. The (subsequently) more familiar “Trinitarian” formula drawn from Matthew 28:19 may have become ascendant as Christianity became more dominantly composed of former pagans, whose baptism involved a renunciation of pagan gods as well as allegiance to Jesus.

I also was surprised to find no reference in McGowan’s book to the practice of “confession” of Jesus as “Lord”, which seems to have been a collective act as part of early Christian worship-gatherings.  Paul refers to this practice in Romans 10:9-13, and scholars commonly see allusion to it also in 1 Corinthians 12:3, and probably in Philippians 2:9-11 (the latter text projecting a universal confession of Jesus as “Kyrios”).  And, again, the practice seems to have originated in Aramaic-speaking circles, as reflected in the curious “maranatha” formula in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (which appears to = “marana (a)tha” = “O Lord, Come!”).  (I find no reference to “maranatha” at all in McGowan’s book.)

This “confession” of Jesus as “Lord” is what Paul seems to mean by referring to “calling upon” Jesus as Lord in Romans 10:13.  It’s striking that he uses an expression that derives from OT texts that originally referred to invoking/worshipping God (YHWH), appropriating it for the reverence to be given to Jesus.  Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul can simply designate Christians as “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This rather obviously reflects how typical the practice had become broadly in the young Jesus-movement.

Although McGowan’s acquaintance with scholarly work is generally impressive, there are a few other (smaller) matters of curious lapse.  E.g., his reference to the puzzling fragment, P. Oxy. 840, shows no knowledge of what is now its major study: Michael J. Kruger, The Gospel of the Savior : An Analysis of P.Oxy.840 and Its Place in the Gospel Traditions of Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

But these complaints don’t prevent me from recommending McGowan’s book heartily.  The breadth of coverage, the wealth of detailed information, and the balanced judgments (e.g., on the “fantasy” that December 25 was a major sun-feast day then taken over by Christians) combine to make it essential for the study of early Christianity.

Mysteries about “Mysteries of the Bible–Jesus”

Last Friday evening here in the UK the TV programme, “Mysteries of the Bible–Jesus” showed (Channel 5, 9 pm), and already I’ve had one commenter asking why I allowed myself to be included in the programme.  So, a few comments are in order.

First, when you’re approached by researchers for such a TV programme (at least in my experience), you’re not usually told the larger storyline or sweep of the programme.  They simply say they have some particular questions that they’d like to interview you about. So, you can deal with those questions but never know in advance where the rest of the programme is going, or even if they’ll use all or any of your own interview.  I, therefore, have no responsibility for this or other programmes for which I’ve been interviewed.

But let me now turn to some matters that made me feel glad not to be responsible for the programme.  First, why did they devote such a large amount of the programme to the absurd notion that Jesus as a young man travelled to England, where he learned stuff from the “Druids”?  No scholar takes any such notion as credible in the slightest.  I guess the producers thought it would add what they regarded as something sensational.  To their credit, they did allow a couple of scholars to debunk the claim.  But we didn’t need the length of time given to the loony notion.

By contrast, for example, why no reference to something that is widely accepted by scholars, and regarded as historically significant:  Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptizer?  Now there are some interesting trails to follow up there.  Or why no mention that Jesus gathered a body of twelve who seem to have had a special symbolic significance?

I also found it a bit curious that the programme made Jesus’ crucifixion quite so crucial.  In one segment, Ehrman appeared to claim that it was essential that Jesus was crucified, not simply executed.  And the programme then wound up making Jesus’ crucifixion the basis for subsequent Christianity.

But, so far as I can see, any form of violent death would have done as indicative of Jesus as martyr and obedient to the divine plan.  Indeed, there are indications that Jesus’ crucifixion was from early on a potential difficulty in early Christian proclamation (e.g., Paul’s reference to the notion as a “stumbling block” for many).  That Jesus was crucified meant that he was executed by the State, his execution, thus, for a political crime, and that is both historically significant and potentially relevant for Christian faith.

But as for the interpretation of Jesus’ crucifixion as redemptive, as part of God’s plan, all this was not as a self-evident result of the crucifixion, but as a result of the powerful conviction that erupted shortly thereafter that God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory.  It’s curious (to put it mildly), therefore, that the programme made no reference to this. It wasn’t necessary for the TV programme to endorse the claim that God raised Jesus from death (that’s a theological claim); but it was beyond strange for the programme not to have indicated that this conviction (whatever you make of its validity) was in fact the historical ignition-point of what became “Christianity.”

So, we wind up with some mysteries about the programme itself.  For some reason, TV producers seem reluctant to take advice on the preparation of a programme from scholars in the subject.  Friday’s programme shows the results.  Let’s hope for better results next time.

An Extensive Review of N.T. Wright’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”

Yesterday I received notice of an extensive, two-part review of N.T. Wright’s 2-vol opus, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, by Chris Tilling.  The review combines a generous and cordial attitude toward Wright with incisive criticism of some major problems in Wright’s big work.  The review is available online in an “open access” journal, Anvil.  The link is here.

I’ll also take the liberty of mentioning again my own review of the work, which appeared in a journal last year:  Theology 117 (2014): 361-65.  The pre-publication version is available on this blog site here.

Roth on Reading the Sources for Marcion

(LWH:  This is the third invited posting from Dr. Dieter Roth on Marcion.)

In my two previous guest blog posts (here and here) considering Marcion’s Gospel, I focused predominantly on issues of reconstructing this text, highlighting, first, problematic issues in Markus Vinzent’s new monograph[1] and, second, the most important methodological considerations when attempting a reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel. In this third and final posting, I would like to return to Vinzent’s book and consider “the other side of the coin” of his argument involving Marcion, namely examples of his reading of the sources.

Of course, it is, once again, vital to remember that when reading the sources for Marcion we are dealing with hostile sources and that therefore great care and critical reflection needs to be used when assessing the polemics of the church fathers against “heretics.” Nevertheless, important insights can be gained from the ancient sources, and Vinzent has set forth what he believes are significant new insights into what the sources tell us about Marcion. These readings, however, seem to be to be quite problematic. In order to illustrate these problems, I will consider two examples of Vinzent’s reading of Tertullian, whose Adversus Marcionem (cited hereafter as Marc.) remains the most extensive, and one of the most important, extant sources for Marcion.

As noted in my first post, Vinzent has set forth the thesis that Marcion created the new literary genre of the Gospel and that he had no historical precedent in the combination of sayings and narratives about Jesus (cf. p. 277). Arguing for this view with reference to Tertullian, Vinzent contends: “Tertullian asserts that with his Gospel Marcion introduced a nova forma sermonis, a literary innovation, that there is in Christ a novel style of discourse, when he sets forth similitudes, when he answers questions” (p. 92). In support of this point, Vinzent offers a citation in a footnote from Marc. 4.11.12. His quotation of the Latin, here translated, reads: “In Christ [there is] a new form of discourse, with similitudes set forth, with questions answered” (p. 92, n. 352).

Though this comment would seem to support Vinzent’s view, the glaring problem is that this citation is taken completely out of context, and gives a misleading impression of what Tertullian wrote. In fact, Tertullian states exactly the opposite of what Vinzent asserts. In Marc. 4.11.12, Tertullian contends that though the Gospel is different from the Law (it is an advance out of the Law), the Gospel is in no way opposed to the Law. He goes on to say, “Nor is there in Christ any novel style of discourse. When he sets forth similitudes, when he answers questions, this comes from the seventy-seventh psalm: I will open my mouth, he says, in a parable, which means a similitude: I will utter dark sayings, which means, I will explain difficulties” (Evans translation). Vinzent simply omitted the opening Latin negation (nec) and ignored the manner in which Tertullian actually sees this “not novel” manner of discourse as fulfilling a Psalm.

Second, Vinzent also attempts to support his view that Marcion wrote the first Gospel by contending that Tertullian presents Marcion as the composer of his Gospel text, but as the redactor of Paul’s epistles. Vinzent writes “He [Tertullian] even terms Marcion the ‘gospel-author’, or as E. Evans translates evangelizator, ‘gospel-maker’, and as the German translator V. Luker [sic, Lukas] renders it ‘Evangelienschreiber’” (p. 92).

This interpretation of evangelizator referring to Marcion being a Gospel writer in the manner envisioned by Vinzent, however, strikes me as curious. Vinzent is referring to Marc. 4.4.5 where Tertullian, after stating that heretical emending of the gospel is due to human temerity and not divine authority, comments “even if Marcion were an angel, he is more likely to be called anathema than gospel-maker, seeing he has preached a different gospel” (translation Evans). Tertullian clearly has Gal 1:8 in mind where Paul addresses the proclamation of a gospel contrary to what he had proclaimed to the Galatians. It seems to me that Tertullian’s meaning here, therefore, is that Marcion has proclaimed a gospel message, one that Tertullian views as a different gospel from the message that he regards as valid and true.

Even if the idea is that Marcion “made” or “created” a gospel, this does not support Vinzent’s view that Marcion was the creator of the Gospel-genre. Indeed, in Adversus Marcionem Tertullian makes only one further reference to an evangelizator and two references to evangelizatores (plural). In Marc. 5.5.1, Tertullian refers to Paul as an evangelizator; in Marc. 5.7.11 he refers to true evangelizatores of the gospel; and in 5.19.5 he refers to Judaizing evagelizatores. In all of these instances, Tertullian rather clearly appears to be referring to the proclamation and preaching of a gospel message, not to writing Gospels. For, of course, if evangelizator means Gospel-writer in Vinzent’s sense, then according to Tertullian, Paul and not Marcion was the first to write a Gospel! Such speculation, however, seems unnecessary as there is no need to read Vinzent’s notion of “authorship” and “writing” into Tertullian’s reference to Marcion as an evangelizator; indeed, it seems highly dubious to do so.

A final point to be made here is that in Marc. 5.1.9 Tertullian explicitly states that Marcion’s treatment of the Gospel text that he has now made into his own heretical Gospel leads one to expect the mutilation of the number of Paul’s epistles. That is to say, in Tertullian’s view, the whittling down of Paul’s epistles from thirteen to ten comes as no surprise given Marcion’s excising of passages in the Gospel text. In short, it does not seem that the radical difference posited by Vinzent between Tertullian’s view of Marcion as “writer” of the Gospel on the one hand and “redactor” of the epistles on the other can be sustained. According to Tertullian, Marcion “wrote” his Gospel in the same way that he “wrote” his Pauline letter collection—by changing, editing, and excising already extant texts.

To summarize, I simply do not see Tertullian supporting the notions Vinzent ascribes to him. Once again, however, I welcome the renewed interest in Marcion and his Gospel. Yet, scholarship requires careful, methodologically controlled, and critical work on both Marcion’s Gospel and the sources, as it is only on such a basis that the discussion can move forward in a constructive way.

[1] Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Studia patristica supplement 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).

How We Roll Here: A Reminder

As new readers are continually coming to this blog site, I give a reminder of “how we roll here” (i.e., the rules for comments, etc.).  These are stated under the tab marked “About Me and This Site.”  Among them, we use real names here, just as we do in live social conversation.  You know who I am, so please identify yourself.  Cutesy blog-names aren’t acceptable, and I can never figure out how/why that sort of thing got started anyway.  (And, please, that isn’t an invitation for extended comments on the use of such devices.)

Also, speak to the issue dealt with in the posting, and try to avoid introducing extraneous issues.  In particular, those who seem to have some “hobby horse” should refrain from trying to wedge it into discussions where it isn’t the posting topic.

And be concise.  This isn’t a soap-box for extended perorations.  Express your question, or make your point, concisely and to the point.

Those who want to operate in other ways, who want to sound off on subjects (typically, on which they aren’t at all qualified), or who want to try to inject some extraneous issue, or who just want to play “silly buggers” are invited to go to sites where they can do so.

Jesus Research: New Volume

For those interested in latest developments in “Jesus-research” (which = especially research on the historical figure of Jesus), a recent volume comes recommended: James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions. The Second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here..

Especially in a time when old-and-long-ago-refuted ideas of a “mythical” Jesus are again circulating (this time, thanks to the Internet, with rapidity and without critique, and with little awareness that they’re not new), I sometimes get asked what do scholars in the main think of matters.  This multi-author volume will serve as an indication of what scholarship in the field is up to, what methods are used, what texts are studied, and, generally, what conclusions seem cogent.

Textual Transmission of NT Writings in the Second Century

The recent postings by Dieter Roth on Marcion’s Gospel reflect wider questions about how the writings that now form the familiar NT regarded and transmitted, especially in the second century.  It is all too easy to play a “what if” game, postulating this or that theory.  Our data are frustratingly limited, but sufficient, I think, to allow us to proceed with some guarded confidence.  And these data also enable us to assess various proposals about these wider questions.  I’ll simply mention here a few resources for those seriously interested in the questions (and not simply posers), and offer a few observations/results of such studies.

Perhaps the crucial work now is the multi-author volume:  The Early Text of the New Testament, eds. Charles E. Hill & Michael J. Kruger (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2012).  In addition to overviews of key questions, such as Kruger’s discussion, “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts” (pp. 63-80), there are detailed analyses of the textual history of each of the main NT writings by competent textual historians.  There are also studies of a host of related matters, such as Hill’s discussion of “Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century,” Paul Foster on “The Text of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers,” Dieter Roth on “Marcion and the Early NT Text,” Joseph Verheyden on “Justin’s Text of the Gospels,” Tijtze Baarda on “Tatian’s Diatessaron and the Greek Text of the Gospels,” Stanley Porter on “Early Apocryphal Gospels and the NT Text,” Jeffrey Bingham & Billy Todd on “Irenaeus’ Text of the Gospels in Adversus haereses,” and Carl Cosaert on “Clement of Alexandria’s Gospel Citation.”  And each essay is rich with citation and engagement with the abundant other scholarly literature and views on each topic.

On a more modest scale, I’ll also refer to my own essay published several years ago: 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, edited by J. W. Childers and D. C. Parker (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-27.   As suggested by the sub-title, I discuss various historical factors that likely helped to shape the transmission of the NT writings in that early period.  The pre-publication version is available on this blog site here.

To make some basic observations:

  • There are indications that some of the familiar NT writings were being treated as scriptures by ca. 100 CE (perhaps even a bit earlier), esp. epistles of Paul, and not much later at least some of the canonical Gospels (and perhaps all four).
  • The extant remains of early manuscripts, which may take us back into the late 2nd century, show variations in copyist attitudes and abilities, and variations in the texts copied.  But these variations are actually quite small and unremarkable.  None of the major variants are attested.  These data suggest (1) it is unlikely that there was some centralized recension of NT writings that artificially obscured an earlier and greater diversity in text, and (2) there is no indication of a “wild” copying tendency or a readiness to change the texts in any major manner.  It is interesting that, although we commonly presume that major variants such as the “Pericope Adulterae” (John 7:53–8:12) and the “Long ending” of Mark were added to copies of the respective Gospels in the second century, we have no extant manuscript from the earliest centuries with either variant.

So, my final plea is that we formulate our theories “upward” from the extant data, not by starting with some “what if” notion and then force-fitting everything to suit the hunch.  It’s more boring, maybe, but it’s also more scientific and likely to achieve something valid.



Marcion and Methodology–Roth #2

(LWH:  The following posting is the second in a series of guest-postings I’ve invited from Dr. Dieter Roth, whose newly published critical reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel sets the standard and basis for all further debate about that text:  The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. Leiden:  Brill, 2015, the publisher’s online catalogue is here.)


I was pleased to hear from Larry that based on the number of page views and comments he received after my first guest blog posting last week, there seems to be a significant amount of interest in Marcion’s Gospel and recent work on this text. As a result, Larry has extended an invitation for two more guest postings in order to allow me to expand on two important issues mentioned in my first posting. Thus, in this second post I will provide an overview of the issues involved in reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel and what I consider to be the most important contributions of my monograph in this regard.[1] In a final posting I will offer a few thoughts on Tertullian’s testimony concerning Marcion’s Gospel, once again in critical dialogue with the recent book by Markus Vinzent.[2]

The difficulty that scholarship has always faced when discussing Marcion’s Gospel is that there are no extant manuscripts of this text. (As an aside that cannot be pursued further here, I am skeptical, at least to this point, that papyrus P69 is a manuscript of Marcion’s Gospel as tentatively suggested by Claire Clivaz and Jason BeDuhn). For this reason, in order to utilize Marcion’s Gospel for gaining insight into written Gospels in early Christianity, compare it with Luke, or consider its place in the transmission of the Gospels, one must first, at least to some extent, reconstruct Marcion’s text. Attempting such a reconstruction, however, faces the rather daunting challenges of determining both which sources are relevant for reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel and how these sources are to be read and utilized in the pursuit of this scholarly endeavor.

Everyone agrees that the most important sources are Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem, especially book four; the Panarion (Adversus haereses) of Epiphanius, especially section forty-two and the seventy-eight σχόλια (“notes”) and ἔλεγχοι (“refutations”) concerning Marcion’s Gospel; and the Pseudo-Origen Adamantius Dialogue, especially books one and two, where Adamantius debates the Marcionites Megethius and Marcus. This not to say that other sources, though minor and of lesser importance, are insignificant, nor is it to say that there are not important debates to be had concerning the relevance of sources such as (Pseudo-)Ephrem’s An Exposition of the Gospel 1–76 (Pseudo-Ephrem A). This latter text is posited as a valuable one by Jason BeDuhn,[3] though I am hesitant to share this assessment and am therefore equally hesitant of including some verses in Marcion’s Gospel that BeDuhn has included solely on the basis of this source (e.g., Luke 6:47–48 or Luke 8:5–8a).[4]

The more important issues for a reconstruction, however, are methodological. In my first post I highlighted a methodological problem with the use of Luke 5:39 in debates concerning the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke. This verse is one of many that are unattested for Marcion’s Gospel. That is to say, it is a verse concerning which no source gives us any indication of its presence or absence in Marcion’s text. Two types of argument from silence have repeatedly been used in the history of scholarship on Marcion’s text, both of which I find highly problematic. On the one hand, scholars attempted to argue whether or not the verse could have been present based on Marcion’s theological proclivities.

On the other hand, arguments were presented of whether or not a source would or would not have mentioned a verse if it had or had not been present. These latter arguments proceeded along the lines of: “if a given author had (or had not) seen a given verse in Marcion’s Gospel surely he could not have resisted using it (or its absence) against Marcion.” Both of these types of arguments from silence led to extended, and fruitless, debates. For this reason, I have argued that when reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel we must distinguish between verses that are attested as present, verses that are attested as absent, and unattested verses.[5] Only the first two categories are, in the first instance, relevant for a reconstruction. Unattested verses are simply unattested and I have labeled then as such in my reconstruction.

In my estimation, however, the most important methodological insight for reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel is one already employed by Ulrich Schmid in his reconstruction of Marcion’s Apostolikon.[6] This insight is that when considering “citations” and references to Marcion’s Gospel in the sources, we must understand as precisely as possible the citation habits of those sources. The best way to do so is to con­sider multiple citations of a biblical passage throughout the entire corpus of a source in order to recognize how a particular author handles references to texts. Once the patterns generated by citation habits are recognized, the testimony that a church father offers for readings in Marcion’s Gospel can be evaluated far more precisely and profitably.

Though details here can once again quickly become rather technical and involve extended discussions, several arguments over whether Marcion used Luke or Luke used Marcion are, for instance, related to which Greek word stood in Marcion’s text on the basis of the Latin words used by Tertullian. Such arguments, however, have often failed to take account of Tertullian’s own word-preferences, theological proclivities, and the changes that Tertulian regularly makes when “citing” scriptural passages. In my monograph the study of precisely such citation habits of a source is foundational for my reconstruction.[7]

Finally, in my reconstructed text, for the first time in the history of scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel, I offered differing levels of certainty for readings in Marcion’s text: secure, very likely, probable, and possible. This presentation was intended to provide guidance on the level of confidence we can ascribe to attested readings in light of a source’s citation habits and the evidence found in the manuscript tradition of Luke, with which all sides of the debate agree Marcion’s Gospel was somehow related. I in no way regard my suggested reconstruction, or my suggested levels of certainty, as the “last word” in reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel; however, I sincerely hope that it will stimulate further debate concerning this text because it is only with a critical and methodologically controlled reconstruction that scholarship can advance in the debates for which this text is relevant. Until we have debated and achieved at least some level of agreement on the reconstruction of Marcion’s text of his Gospel, all proposals about its relationship to the Gospel of Luke, for example, will remain insecure and speculative.


[1] Dieter T. Roth, The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents 49; Leiden: Brill, 2015).

[2] Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Gospels (Studia Patristica Supplements 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).

[3] Cf. Jason Beduhn, The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon (Salem, Oreg.: Polebridge, 2013), 40.

[4] Cf. the discussion of the sources for Marcion’s Gospel in Roth, Text of Marcion’s Gospel, 46–78.

[5] I have provided complete tables of these three types of verses in Roth, Text of Marcion’s Gospel, 49–78.

[6] Cf. Ulrich Schmid, Marcion und sein Apostolos: Rekonstruktion und historische Einordnung der marcionitischen Paulusbriefausgabe (Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung 25; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995).

[7] I have also provided a brief overview of the issue of “citation habits” with two examples in Dieter T. Roth, “Marcion’s Gospel: Relevance, Contested Issues, Reconstruction,” The Expository Times 121 (2010): 291–94.

A Newly-Published Detailed Study of Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Alexandrinus is a fifth-century “pandect,” that is, the Greek Old Testament and the Greek New Testament writings in one manuscript.  From its original provenance (still uncertain), it came to England in 1627, presented to King Charles I as a gift by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucar, and is now housed in the British Library (London).  Alexandrinus is well known to students of the Greek NT, especially those who study NT textual history and textual variants.  It is the “fountain head” of what became the “Byzantine” text-type of the Gospels.  But, as strange as it may seem, there has been no study of the codex of equivalent depth prior to the newly-published work by  W. Andrew Smith:  A Study of the Gospels in Codex Alexandrinus: Codicology, Palaeography, and Scribal Hands (Leiden: Brill, 2014).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry here.

Smith, a recently-minted PhD, whom I supervised here, has produced what will now certainly be the “must consult” study on practically all aspects of this famous codex.  I recall reading his work as he handed it in, chapter-by-chapter, but seeing it in published form (and kitted out with additional data not included in the thesis) I’m again impressed with his dedication to the project and to the quality of what he produced.  It is not practical here to mention more than some larger results of his study, and I assure you that there is much more of interest than I can relate here.  His analysis yields conclusions that require some ideas held earlier to be revised.

His detailed study of the features of the handwriting leads him to insist that we can no longer hold confidently to an Egyptian provenance for the manuscript.  Using a combination of palaeographical analysis and statistical analysis of various copyist devices, he contends also that there were three copyists involved in producing the NT writings, two who copied the Gospels and much of the NT, and a third copyist who produced Revelation (correcting the judgements of a number of previous scholars such as Kenyon,  Skeat and Milne).

One of the features of Alexandrinus is the abundance of para-textual features (what Smith refers to as “a rich feature set”), including black and red inks, marked quotations from the OT, a chapter-numbering system, the “Eusebian Canons,” and “supplemental texts” such as the Odes, the Hypotheses, the epistles of Clement, and the Psalms of Solomon.

As well, there are features intended to facilitate the (most likely liturgical) reading of the manuscript, such as division of the text into paragraphs, initial vowels marked with a “diaeresis” (looks like a German Umlaut), unusual word endings marked with a book or apostrophe, liberal use of punctuation and “paragraphus” marks to indicate breaks in lists, sentences and portions of text.

As well as giving now the most in-depth study of Alexandrinus available (with special focus on the Gospels), Smith has also produced what I think must be seen as a model for the detailed analysis of other important manuscripts.  I’m pleased and proud to have served as supervisor for this landmark project.



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