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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Making an Impact on the Bible This Year

We do not have the original copies of any of the Gospels or letters in the New Testament. What we do have are thousands of handwritten Greek New Testaments. Some of these are as old as the 200s, or perhaps even older. And almost all were written before the invention of the printing press.

These treasures were the Bibles for entire Christian communities, for families, and even for individuals—if they were fortunate enough to afford the luxury of having a book. They bear witness to the words of the Christian Scriptures and the history of the Church in the Greek-speaking world.

Greek New Testament manuscripts are singularly important because they are the foundation for modern Bibles. By studying them we can discern what were the very words written by the apostles and their associates. While we know essentially what the New Testament says, there are still a number of places where Bible scholars and translators wrestle with what was originally written. Studying Greek New Testament manuscripts answers those questions. In this way, CSNTM stands at the head of the stream of Bible translation. When people read the New Testament in future years, it will differ in some places from what you read today, and a large reason for that will be greater knowledge of the original Greek New Testament—knowledge which comes through the work of CSNTM.

It is crucial to both preserve and study these significant documents. They must be preserved digitally in case of unexpected destruction AND in case of what IS expected—the inevitable decay over time.

And they must be studied so that we have the best possible knowledge of the Greek New Testament. Complete study of manuscripts is usually impossible without having a digital copy made available online.

Our mission at CSNTM is to digitize Greek New Testament manuscripts for the modern world.

There are still thousands of undigitized and inaccessible manuscripts. And right now teams of researchers in the United States and Europe are working on a new edition of the Greek New Testament. Therefore, it is urgent that we digitize more manuscripts and share the images with these teams.

Will you make a gift to help CSNTM before the end of the year?

Our focus in 2020 is in Eastern Europe—the location of many significant manuscripts not yet digitized. Your partnership with CSNTM will be instrumental in making sure these documents become available for free online.

Give Today

Did you know that you can donate stock directly to CSNTM and receive significant tax advantages? As of this month, CSNTM is now enabled to receive stock equities directly! You can contact us directly at support@csntm.org to get the information you need to make this kind of donation through your broker.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Interviews With the Authors: Myths and Mistakes—Peter J. Gurry

Series Introduction: Leigh Ann Thompson | Interview: Joy Singh and Peter J. Gurry

In November the book Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism—edited by Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson— hit the shelves. Each chapter in the book considers a “myth” about manuscripts and the text of the New Testament and offers a response with helpful information for apologists and lay people who are interested in how data about manuscripts influences our understanding of the reliability of the text of the New Testament.

Some of the authors of Myths and Mistakes have kindly participated in interviews with the CSNTM interns about their contributions. Over the next few weeks we will post these written interviews here on CSNTM’s blog. We hope you enjoy learning from the book’s contributors, and we highly recommend purchasing the book for yourself!

 

Peter Gurry is the co-editor of Myths and Mistakes and he wrote a chapter on "Myths about Variants," which investigates the number and nature of the differences between the texts in New Testament manuscripts. Peter is an Assistant Professor of the New Testament and Co-Director of the Text and Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary, Arizona. He graduated with a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and PhD from Cambridge University. Gurry regularly contributes to the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

What inspired or got you interested in the field of New Testament Textual Criticism?

I had been interested in how we get our English Bible since high school when I received my first Greek New Testament. In college, I took more Greek and that’s where I first learned about textual criticism. I was fascinated and challenged by the process by which scholars move from hundreds and hundreds of hand-copied manuscripts to a printed Greek New Testament and, finally, to my English Bible. I wanted to know as much as I could about this process. I’ve also had a long interest in visual communication, and so I was immediately drawn to manuscripts themselves because of their scripts, formatting, paragraphing, artwork, layout, etc. Eventually, my passion for all this took me to Dallas Seminary and CSNTM. It was on my first trip with the Center that I got to see my first (non-forged!) Greek New Testament manuscript. That settled it. I was hooked.

You talk about the discrepancy in citing the variants. How do you define a variant? And how does the existence of variants add or detract from the claim to the reliability of the text?

Well, the discrepancy I talk about is about estimating the number variants. What I found in the academic literature was a wide variety of claims about how many variants there might be. But nobody gave a real justification for their number. For the sake of my own estimate (which is about ½ million), I defined a “variant” as a non-spelling difference in wording in our Greek manuscripts. This means I exclude variants found only in translations like Latin or Coptic or only in patristic citations. As for how these variants affect the reliability of the NT text, it depends on the variant. Upwards of 50% of the variants that my estimate is based on are only found in a single manuscript. Still another percentage are nonsense readings (like writing “teh” for “the”). These are easily set aside when the question is what the original text is. Other variants in the remainder make sense and are found in more than one manuscript but still have no claim to being original because they are so obviously scribal mistakes. When it comes to sifting the real wheat from the textual chaff, the number of variants that present difficulties is quite tiny in comparison. Of course, for professional textual critics, the more data the better for studying the history of the text. Perhaps ironically, the many variants can actually provide greater confidence in our decisions even though it means there are more decisions to make.

Robert Price used words and phrases like “probabilistic arguments, ambiguous evidence which is impossible to verify,” to describe his faith shattering experience of the uncertainty of the text at hand. How would you as the author describe the text at hand today? 

I would say the printed texts we have today provide more than what’s needed for a robust Christian confidence in the text of the New Testament. I do think there is a small group of difficult variants that affect theologically important texts (like Jesus’ remarkable prayer from the cross in Luke 23:34). But I know of no difficult variant that, by itself, determines Christian doctrine. When viewed holistically, the New Testament text is remarkably stable. On this I largely agree with a scholar like Marcus Borg who has written, “With only a few minor exceptions, we can be confident that the Gospels and the New Testament as a whole reliably report what was originally written” (Debating Christian Theism, p. 432).

What impact do you desire to see in the Christian world through this book?

I hope it has two. The first is that it helps Christians sharpen their defense of the Bible. Where we use bad information, we end up discrediting the Bible. So, I hope the book clears away garbled arguments and replaces them with good ones. More broadly, I hope the book encourages Christians to place a higher premium on integrity in our public witness and to do our homework. The truth of the Christian faith never ultimately rests on our ability to publicly defend it. Knowing that should relieve us of the pressure to grasp at the first argument that “works.” Instead, we should be more interested in being right than in being seen to be right. Doing that builds trust with our critics, honors Christ, and “adorns the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10).

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Announcing Interviews With the Authors of Myths and Mistakes

By: Leigh Ann Thompson

In November the book Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism—edited by Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson— hit the shelves. Each chapter in the book considers a “myth” about manuscripts and the text of the New Testament and offers a response with helpful information for apologists and lay people who are interested in how data about manuscripts influences our understanding of the reliability of the text of the New Testament.

Some of the authors of Myths and Mistakes have kindly participated in interviews with the CSNTM interns about their contributions. Over the next few weeks we will post these written interviews here on CSNTM’s blog. We hope you enjoy learning from the book’s contributors, and we highly recommend purchasing the book for yourself!

Series Installments:

Peter J. Gurry (Text and Canon Institute, Phoenix Seminary)—"Myths about Variants"

Greg Lanier (Reformed Theological Seminary)—“Dating Myths: How Later Manuscripts Can Be Better Manuscripts”

Elijah Hixson (Tyndale House, Cambridge)—"Dating Myths"

James Prothro (Ave Maria University and The Religious Studies Review)—“Myths about Classical Literature”

Thursday, December 12, 2019

From the Library: Byzantine Lectionaries and Advent

By: Andrew J. Patton and Leigh Ann Thompson

 

Throughout history, Christians oriented time around Jesus Christ. It started by recognizing the first day of the week by his resurrection. Later, significant days like Easter and Epiphany were commemorated. Even entire special seasons like Advent and Lent were observed. Scripture, naturally, played a crucial part in worship and traditions at these times of the year. Today, we can see what was being read in Greek New Testament lectionaries. 

What is a lectionary? Lectionaries are liturgical books that correspond with the calendar, ordered so that particular passages of the Bible are read on certain days. These books were most often created for public reading in churches, monasteries, or other services rather than for private reading. In the 7th and 8th centuries, Greek New Testament lectionaries resembled the form that they would follow for the next thousand years while the Scriptures were copied by hand. Lectionaries seem to have been ubiquitous. We have more than 2500 Greek New Testament lectionaries remaining today.

The readings are divided into two sections. The first section, called synaxarion, followed the movable church calendar beginning and closing with Easter. The menologion section, which comes after the synaxarion, follows the civil calendar from September 1 to August 31, with readings for the celebration of events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, commemoration of saints, apostles, and martyrs, as well as readings aligned with special occasions in the church. 

Since we are in the season of Advent with Christmas nearly two weeks away, we thought it would be meaningful to take a look at lectionaries for Advent and see how medieval Christians copied the texts about Jesus’ birth. 

Readings from the Christmas Story in Byzantine Lectionaries 

In the menologion, we find readings in December that, like modern day Advent readings, culminate in the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th.

While some lectionaries included Scripture readings for every day in December, others simply indicated the day and noted what Scripture should be read. The readings that focused on Christ’s birth begin on December 23rd which includes Jesus’ genealogy found in the beginning of Matthew. On the following day, readings for Christmas Eve were designated for each hour leading up to Christmas day starting at 6:00pm. Finally, to celebrate Christ’s birth, readings from the first two chapters of Matthew rang through churches beginning at dawn on Christmas Day.

Special Features that Accompanied the Christmas Story

Lectionaries are some of the most elaborately and consistently decorated Greek New Testament manuscripts. This partially reflects their context, being a part of a visual and ornate liturgical setting (see this blog post for more about illustrations in liturgy). Furthermore, since a lectionary often served a lector who was reading aloud, decorations marked out important places so that a reader could easily navigate through the text. Notice how the beautiful decorations below accompany, emphasize, and point out the Christmas readings.

Decorated letters were often placed at the beginning of a reading as indicators. Below are some examples that not only stand out on the page, but also among other readings in the menologion. 

Decorative Beta

Lectionary 384 includes other interesting markings that note the beginning of this lection.

Advent Lections in Lectionary 1957

The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin owns a 10th–11th century lectionary written in majuscule (capital letter) script called Gregory-Aland Lectionary 1957 by scholars.The handwriting alone makes this a special artifact because there are only a few hundred or so majuscule lectionaries. This beautiful copy of the Greek New Testament is a terrific example for looking at the readings around Advent.

 

The scribe wrote out the month and date at the top of the column. Then included in red and gold ink labels for Saturday and Sunday readings. The Saturday reading is expected to be Luke 13.29, of which an excerpt is recorded below the heading. The Sunday reading is Matthew 1.1–25. 

On this and the following pages, the scribe copied Jesus’ genealogy with deluxe gold letters for the start of his ancestors’ names. The genealogy of Jesus was commonly treated in special ways that made it more prominent

Then later in the manuscript, the Christmas reading is introduced. The prescribed texts for Christmas in the menologion included Matthew 2.1–12. Here, the scribe recorded an introduction to the reading in smaller script and then added the biblical text following the decorated tau. If you notice the small red markings above the letters, those are guides for the reading of Scripture aloud. They would have helped the clergy member read this text to the congregation.

Conclusion

We hope you have found it interesting to examine these artifacts that show how Christian scribes copied the nativity stories in the Gospels in lectionary manuscripts. Byzantine lectionaries recorded the story of Jesus’ birth for reading when Christians gathered to celebrate their Christmas services, and the ordered readings led the congregation and clergy to reflect on the significance of the birth of their holy savior—as Jesus is described in the introduction to the Christmas readings in Lectionary 1957. At such an important season and moment in the Christian year, we wish you a merry and joyful Christmas.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Larry Hurtado (1943–2019): Textual Critic, Christologist, Exegete, Scholar, Christian

By: Daniel B. Wallace

On November 25, 2019, one of the great biblical scholars of our time died too young. Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor in the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, succumbed to cancer. I learned of his passing after the annual dinner of the Evangelical Textual Criticism group, which was meeting at a pizza restaurant in San Diego during the Society of Biblical Literature conference that evening. We all knew he had cancer and had made a turn for the worse in recent days. But we didn’t expect him to slip into eternity so quickly. He was just weeks shy of his 76th birthday.

Larry was one of Eldon Epp’s students at Case Western Reserve University. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on text-critical methods in Mark’s Gospel that he employed to determine the flavor of Codex W. I found this work remarkably helpful in its clear articulation and solid logic. Larry was a longtime champion of proper methodology in textual criticism. E. C. Colwell’s mantle fell on his shoulders. I remember the two-day conference on NT textual criticism focusing on the coherence-based genealogical method in Münster in 2009. Just a few dozen folks were there; I was told by one of the organizers that every NT textual critic was invited, and all but one came. Hurtado was present, and he made his presence known. He offered objections and insights throughout the conference that far outshined almost all others. In short, even 35 years after his PhD on textual criticism, and 12 years after he moved to Scotland where his attentions were now focused on early devotion to Jesus, he still had it. He was up to date on the field. He never left his first love.

Larry’s career took him from Canada to Scotland. Even before he came to Edinburgh in 1996, he was expanding his expertise far beyond the arcane walls of textual studies. Most importantly, he founded the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University. Larry became known for his work in early Christology, focusing on the worship of Jesus in the first few centuries of the Church. His work dealing with the binitarian transformation of monotheism that incorporated the worship of Jesus was truly ground-breaking. Larry published several detailed volumes on this subject.

He continued to show strong interest in things textual, too. He authored The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins, a fascinating book that addressed a largely neglected field of research, viz., New Testament and Christian manuscripts as artifacts. This book was one of the catalysts that helped scholars see a difference between the text in a manuscript (i.e., the wording) and the manuscript itself (i.e., the material on which the text was written). Manuscripts include many significant things besides text, including helps for readers such as sacred names in abbreviation (known as nomina sacra), marginal notes, corrections, musical notations, Scripture references, section titles, colophons, subscriptions, and the like. Manuscripts are now treated as artifacts in their own right.

Larry was also on CSNTM’s International Advisory Board. In fact, he was the key player responsible for connecting the Center with the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin where we digitized some of the most important papyri known to exist (along with other New Testament manuscripts). You can hear why he values the work of digitizing manuscripts in this video, taken five years ago at SBL in San Diego. 

Finally, Larry was a friend and a Christian. His own devotion to Jesus Christ drove his scholarship. Some today think that they are wholly objective in their study of the Bible; this is a naïve view that was thrown out with historical positivism over a century ago. Hurtado never pretended to be completely objective, but he was willing to challenge his own presuppositions and test them under rigorous examination. He thus serves as a great model for us today. He will be missed but, I hope, emulated by the next generation of biblical scholars.

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