Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Earliest Use of "original text" or "autographs"?

in 1999 (ten years ago already!) Eldon Epp published his now famous article on "The Multivalence of the Term 'Original Text' in New Testament Textual Criticism" (HTR 92 [1999] 245-281). One section of the essay offers a brief and selective survey of "The Past Use of 'Original Text'" (pp. 248-254. While helpful in some respects, this section is problematic in others. This leads me to ask the following question:
What might be the first, or among the first, instances of someone specifying the restoration of either the "original text" or "the autographs" as the goal of NT textual criticism?


  1. One can at least start with John Gill, A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, (1767), 1:18,

    "Only the original exemplar is authentic; and not translations, and transcriptions, and copies of them, though ever so perfect."

  2. I think the language of "original" and even "original text" is used very early (i.e. by Erasmus and the Complutensian polyglot). E.g. from Ximenes preface to Compl. Poly.:
    "There are many reasons, Holy Father, that impel us to print the languages of the original text of Holy Scripture. These are the principal ones. Words have their own unique character, and no translation of them, however complete, can entirely express their full meaning. This is especially the case in that language through which the Lord Himself spoke. The letter here of itself may be dead and like flesh which profits nought (‘for it is the spirit that gives life’ [2 Cor. 3:6]) because Christ concealed by the form of the words remains enclosed within its womb. But there is no doubt that there is a rich fecundity so astonishing and an abundance of sacred mysteries so teeming that since it is ever full to overflowing ‘streams of living water shall flow out from His breast’ [John 7:38]. And from this source those to whom it has been given ‘to behold the glory of the Lord with an unveiled face and thus be transformed into that very image’ [2 Cor. 3:18] can continually draw the marvellous secrets of His divinity. Indeed there can be no language or combination of letters from which the most hidden meanings of heavenly wisdom do not emerge and burgeon forth, as it were. Since, however, the most learned translator can present only a part of this, the full Scripture in translation inevitably remains up to the present time laden with a variety of sublime truths which cannot be understood form any source other than the original language.
    Moreover, wherever there is diversity in the Latin manuscripts or the suspicion of a corrupted reading (we know how frequently this occurs because of the ignorance and negligence of copyists), it is necessary to go back to the original source of Scripture, as St. Jerome and St. Augustine and other ecclesiastical writers advise us to do, to examine the authenticity of the books of the Old Testament in the light of the correctness of the Hebrew text and of the New Testament in the light of the Greek copies. And so that every student of Holy Scripture might have at hand the original texts themselves and be able to quench his thirst at the very fountainhead of the water that flows unto life everlasting and not have to content himself with rivulets alone, we ordered the original languages of Holy Scripture with their translations adjoined to be printed an dedicated to your Holiness. And we first took care to print the New Testament in Greek and Latin together with a lexicon of all the Greek expressions that can help those reading that language. Thus we spared no effort on behalf of those who have not acquired a full knowledge of the Greek tongue."
    ET from J.C. Olin, Catholic Reform: From Cardinal Ximenes to the Council of Trent 1495–1563 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990), 62–3.

  3. Erasmus echoes this in his preface too:
    "For one thing I found crystal clear: our chiefest hope for the restoration and rebuilding of the Christian religion, our sheet-anchor as they call it, is that all those who profess the Christian philosophy the whole world over should above all absorb the principles laid down by their Founder from the writings of the evangelists and apostles, in which that heavenly Word which once came down to us from the heart of the Father still lives and breathes for us and acts and speaks with more immediate efficacy, in my opinion, than in any other way. Besides which I perceived that that teaching which is our salvation was to be had in a much purer and more lively form if sought at the fountain-head and drawn from the actual sources than from pools and runnels. And so I have revised the whole New Testament (as they call it) against the standard of the Greek original, not unadvisedly or with little effort, but calling I the assistance of a number of manuscripts in both languages, and those not the first comers but both very old and very correct. And well knowing that sacred subjects demand equally scrupulous treatment, I was not content with that degree of care, but passed rapidly over all the works of the classical theologians, and ran to earth from their quotations or their comments what each of them had found or altered in his text. I have added annotations of my own, in order in the first place to show the reader what changes I have made, and why; second, to disentangle and explain anything that may be complicated, ambiguous, or obscure; and lastly as a protection, that it might be less easy in future to corrupt what I have restored at the cost of scarcely credible exertions." (Ep. 384 (dated 1 Feb 1516))

  4. We need to distinguish at least the following terms:

    'The original' (sc. tongue)
    'The original' (sc. text)
    'The original' (no noun to be supplied)
    'first original'
    'original tongue'
    'original text'

    I think that the term 'autograph' has little referential overlap with any of these terms.

    Though Epp's article is entitled as the study of a 'term' it never really studies a term, only a 'notion'. Various terms are used in the article as if they were interchangeable.

  5. That *originally* there was a written document known as "the Gospel of God" is plain, especially from this text:

    What was from the beginning.
    What we heard.
    What we saw with our eyes. //
    What we examined, and around which our hands fell - the Word of Life (1 Jn. 1:1).

    What is interesting about this text is the reference to "examining," i.e., subjecting the text to a certain measure of interrogation, as well as material nature of its object: "to grasp around something," i.e., to hold something in one's hand.

    While my suspicion is that the author of 1 John is referring to the "gospel of John," the notion of an "original" written WORD is plain (cf. Jn 1:1). Unfortunately, though, the author of 1 John is already engaged in a form of textual criticism insofar as he is in need of reassuring his readers that he had access to the original WORD. (Obviously some were doubting). If it is the gospel of John to which he refers, then he really is in need of one more step; for even the author of John says that there was an original WORD to which he then proceeds to write a history - but if there was an original WORD (as he says) then why the need to write more word(s)?

    Moreover, even John of the Apocalypse gives warnings against "those who would add [words] or take away [words]" from his book (Rev. 22:18-19). Surely the author was aware of the practice of "adding" and "taking away," otherwise he would not have given a warning.

    So, to put forward another perspective: textual criticism begins among the authors of the NT - >>> PERI ToN LOGoN THS ZWHS <<<.