Wednesday, August 16, 2006

L.M. McDonald on Ancient Manuscripts and the Formation of the NT

Forgive my tardiness, but I thought that I'd finally report on a seminar at SNTS given by Lee Martin McDonald on "Ancient Manuscripts and the NT Canon". Here is the summary:

A. The New Testaments of the early church are very different from the one in use today. The differences include the actual number of the NT writings contained in most collections (e.g. rarely the whole NT) and the existence of non-canonical documents (e.g. Sherpherd of Hermas, 3 Corinthians, Acts of Paul, etc) in these collections. Some Christians may have adopted something like a "canon within the canon" by teaching and preaching from books that had more relevance to their communities.

B. From the very beginning persons within the early church were aware that they did not have access to the "originals" and were also aware of variations within the manuscript tradition.

C. Those churches that had their Scriptures in a translation generally had fewer books available than those who had their Scriptures in Greek. The churches resisted any proclivity to ascribe inspiration and authority to any one particular translation.

D. Since the church's theology was established without original manuscripts and without a full NT canon, how significant is it that early churches did not have all the Scriptures that the church has today?

E. No major teaching of the church hinges on a variant in a mansucript and most intentional changes moved towards orthodoxy, not heresy.

F. How did the lack of original texts and a complete Bible (as we know it) impact the life and theology of the church?

I think that McDonald raises some good questions here.

10 Comments:

Anonymous said...

"The differences include the actual number of the NT writings contained in most collections (e.g. rarely the whole NT) and the existence of non-canonical documents (e.g. Sherpherd of Hermas, 3 Corinthians, Acts of Paul, etc) in these collections."

Is there any evidence that a third letter of Paul to the Corinthians was ever copied and perpetuated, even in a limited fashion? What references are there?

Thanks.

Casey

Peter Gurry said...

Excellent questions. Is his paper available either on or offline?

Anonymous said...

D. Since the church's theology was established without original manuscripts and without a full NT canon, how significant is it that early churches did not have all the Scriptures that the church has today?

E. No major teaching of the church hinges on a variant in a mansucript and most intentional changes moved towards orthodoxy, not heresy.

F. How did the lack of original texts and a complete Bible (as we know it) impact the life and theology of the church?

I'm always leery of those who say the church did not have the "originals" at their disposal. The copies contain the original. I am glad to see that this is qualified by point E above.

From the Acts of the Apostles it is clear that the early church had the knowledge of the OT Scriptures. From Paul's writings the kerygma was understood and recieved as Scripture and of divine authority. I put a lot of emphasis upon the eastern ability to memorize and retain. In addition the safeguards that the presence of the NT prophet's revelatory gifts (which have now ceased)and the judicious elders coupled with IMHO a rapid sharing and dissemination of NT writings (Paul doubtless introduced the churches one to the other in his writings as well as in person)- including the four canonical Gospels - would seem to indicate that this situation was not so disadvantagous as might be surmised. Doubtless even in the second century and into the third a certain discrimination was necessary but this was based primarily upon the abundance of literature and not its derth and may correspond in some instances and locals to the ever increasing expansion of Christianity.

The early knowledge, recognition and collection of the paulinum corpus (cf 2 Peter 3:15f) and the early recognition of the fourfold Gospel (Papias, Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Justin, Irenaeus) support this and evidence a knowledge of and rapid sharing of the apostolic writings.

The Muratorian fragment (180 A.D.) indicates that lesser known canonical writings such as 2 Peter, or 2 & 3 John or even Jude may have had a tougher time being recognized. Writings like the Hermas, Barnabas, and others were disputed by some for some time to come even into the fourth century (and even today depending on one's affiliation).

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Mike, sounds like it could have been an interesting talk; but did McDonald have a thesis, or only a series of questions? And and are the undefined generalisations 'original' or 'transmissional'? E.g. 'the early church' - what period are we actually talking about?

Re A: where are 3 Corinthians and Acts of Paul included in the NT?

Michael F. Bird said...

Peter G. - The paper is not available on-line to my knowledge but you could always try email Lee at Acadia Divinity School in Canada.

Peter H. - (1) McDonald's objective was to look at how the books in ancient manuscripts point to operative NT canons in the churches, how the numerous textual variants reveals the church's difficulty in estabishing an authoritative text for its scriptures, and how the translation of the NT writings functioned canonically in the non-Greek speaking churches. This implies, in his own words, that: "Far too many scholars assume anachronistically that the NT that we have today is the same that obtained currency in the earliest churches."

(2) I don't think he defined his terms to any extent (not that I can see anyway).

(3) McDonald also points out that the NT collection (p66, p72, p74, p75) is missing Mark, all of Paul except Romans and 2 Corinthians, as well as Hebrews and Revelation. On the other hand he says that it includes the Protoevangelium of James, 3 Corinthians, Acts of Paul, Apology of Phileas, Vison of Dorotheos, Shepherd of Hermas, an Apocryphon, liturgical hymns, and three of Melito's homilies. He gives other suchs lists with other papyri, e.g. p42

Peter M. Head said...

Calling the Bodmer papyri 'a NT collection' is perhaps the start of that particular problem.

Michael F. Bird said...

"NT Collection" are his words!

Tommy Wasserman said...

Peter: "Re A: where are 3 Corinthians and Acts of Paul included in the NT?"

3 Cor, obviously a later composition, was accepted in the canon of the Armenian church at some stage I think.

Anonymous said...

Peter Head: "Calling the Bodmer papyri 'a NT collection' is perhaps the start of that particular problem."

When discussing the Chester Beatty papyri L.M. McDonald puts it that way: "The NT part of that collection..." (p. 7 of the text of his presentation as distributed at SNTS). He then goes on discussing the Bodmer papyri, the Oxyrhynchus papyri and the Nag Hammadi mss finally summarizing his point: "None of the libraries have a complete collection of the NT writings" (ibid., p. 9).

Apparently McDonald takes the mss purchases by Martin Bodmer and Sir Alfred Chester Beatty as representing ancient Christian libraries. When I confronted him with this (and other) misconceptions related to TC matters he replied: "It seems as if I've entered somebody else's ball-park." To which I wished I had the sharpness and the courage to have replied: "Yeah, you even took the wrong entrance."

Ulrich Schmid

Tommy Wasserman said...

Ulrich Schmid:

"Apparently McDonald takes the mss purchases by Martin Bodmer and Sir Alfred Chester Beatty as representing ancient Christian libraries."

A large part of the Bodmer Papyri, but definitely not all, was labeled "The Dishna Papers" by J. M. Robinson, because they were found together in a jar at a site near Dishna. This find may in fact represent a Christian library, and a few of its items ended up in the Chester Beatty collection.

However, McDonald has apparently misunderstood the extent of the respective collection as well as the notion of an "NT collection" in this library, which contains a broad collection of ancient literature, including classical works, biblical and apocryphal writings, etc.