Thursday, May 17, 2007

Canon and Reception History

There is quite a lot going on at the moment on issues relating to the NT canon, the reception history of Luke-Acts (or lack thereof), gospel traditions in the second century etc. But I feel a bit constrained from discussing them here because they are not strictly speaking 'textual criticism'. What do you think? Should we stick to variants, manuscripts, methods and textual criticism; or can we also touch on canon issues (which are indeed often closely connected with textual criticism and history)?


  1. I don't see how you can separate canon and reception history from textual criticism.

    If, as William Petersen wrote, the early second century texts of the books that would become the NT were so different than the texts of any of our extant MSS that we would hardly recognize the books and cannot even meaningfully talk about "the use of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers", then it would be necessary for textual critics to account for the ramifications of that view in their work. Alternatively, we can't simply progress with an assumption that he's wrong and leave it to specialists in other areas to work out the details, while the other specialists are themselves leaving it for the textual critics to work out.

    If we don't address the kind of questions you bring up, then it would seem that we put numerous TC matters out of our own reach, such as the following:
    1) Was the text of the NT more fluid before the time of Justin Martyr than it was after?
    2) Was the level of its fluidity within the range of what we find among the various extant witnesses of the text? Or was it even more fluid in ways that we can't presume to know?
    3) If the early text was so much more more fluid, can we hope to recover the texts of the autographs? Should we permit conjectural emendations to do so? Should we give up and settle for a second century settled text?
    4) Of the variants that do exist among our extant MSS, what kind arose during this early period and what kind arose later?
    5) Are the Apostolic Fathers or other early writings that may quote or use books of the NT admissible as evidence of a reading in the NT?
    6) Were any NT books published in multiple editions? Do our extant witnesses convey variants that mix them together? Should we, therefore, try to recover each edition separately? Would that be possible even if we wanted to?

  2. I wouldn't mind seeing it discussed here. It seems the two are closely related. Take for instance the example of the Longer Ending of Mark: held by most to be unoriginal to Mark based on TC, but should it be canonical? It seems the text critical evidence has something to contribute to that discussion.

  3. I would frame the question of the ending of Mark more starkly than Peter.

    Unless we address the issue of early 2nd century reception of Mark (within the general framework of reception of the NT or what would become the NT), then we can't even meaningfully talk about such a thing as "original" or "unoriginal" to Mark except by putting our heads in the sand as to those peripheral canon and reception questions. If Mark was nothing but disorganized clusters of text getting added to, taken from, and reworked in different ways at different locations until attaining a static form in the middle of the second century; and if the longer ending came about some time prior to that watershed moment in its textual history (as it most likely did); then criteria would need to be developed for text-critics to decide which of those early versions of the then unsettled text qualify as "original" regardless of the book itself being canonical or not. Alternatively, if such a pessimistic picture of the text is not to be accepted, it is incumbant upon text critics to say why.

  4. Eric's comment made me think. Suppose B.M. Metzger's book "The Text of the New Testament" somehow should become a future-"Mark" in the sense that scholar would argue, which was the original text, seeing that there are differences between manuscripts (supposing a copy of the second, third and fourth EDITIONS remaining in the archives without those pages that indicate that these are versions), what would textual critics do? Arrive at some sort of coherent text, quessing that all three manuscripts (versions in reality!) are bad copies of the earlier tradition? How could they "know" that they have manuscripts of different versions instead of more-or-less good/bad copies of a single text?

    Making this wild, what if Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and, say, some later manuscripts containing the longer ending of the Mark are not more-or-less good/bad copies of a single text but in reality copies of different versions of the text. How would we know?

  5. In relation to Luke-Acts this is a fascinationg question. Since Cadbury, Luke-Acts has been treated as one literary unit in two parts. Yet in mss Acts appears most often in proximity to the Apostolos and not with Luke or even the Synoptics. Thus, readers in the early church did not read Luke-Acts as an organic unity. On the other hand, how much of later reception are we willing to pin on authorial intent and initial reception by the first audience?

  6. It seems to me that the history of the text includes not only issues of copying and so forth, but also issues of which texts were chosen to be copied and why.

    I'd be fascinated to hear more on these issues.

    Tony Zbaraschuk

  7. and we did have a discussion on the Hebrew Bible side of this question last summer.

    Canon, multiple editions, final text, first text are all interelated questions.

    Maurice asked me last year if my view of accepting the Hebrew MT (massoretic) as canon, even though I know it is not the original at all points, would logically lead me to accept the Greek MT (majority) as canon. I have to confess that I've toyed with the idea but still love my Vaticanus.

  8. Peter, you've seen a lot of support for discussing canon issues on this blog. Go ahead!

    Ulrich Schmid