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Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 19

CANON: Manuscripts, Codexes, and the Canon

The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 19
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CANON: Manuscripts, Codexes, and the Canon

I. THE EARLY CHURCH HAD A CULTURE OF TEXTUALITY

A. Patristic citations show which books were received as canon

B. Manuscripts show which books the church was reading

C. More canonical manuscripts than apocryphal manuscripts

II. CODEX

A. The New Testament world preferred the scroll format

B. Christians used the codex format to group books together (especially gospels)

C. No example of the canonical gospels bound with a apocryphal gospel

III. AFFECT OF THE FREQUENCY OF PUBLIC READING ON THE CANON

A. The New Testament manuscripts were written for pubic reading

Most ancient manuscripts were more for display

B. How to help with public reading

1. Space between lines

2. Less letters per line

3. Punctuation (readers’ aids)

C. Tells us that the concept of canon was early


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  • In Part 1, Dr. Darrell Bock addresses the historical Jesus debate, some scholars actually question whether Jesus even lived. How can we show that he did live using sources other than the Bible and the writing of the early Church Fathers?

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit. We will re-record the seminar when we are able.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Darrell Bock adresses how some liberal scholars argue that because the stories of Jesus were first told by word of mouth, and since memory is faulty, that we cannot trust the gospel witness to Jesus. Dr. Bock discusses three views of orality and why the "informal controlled" model of the Bedouins best parallels the gospels and argues for the authenticity of their accounts. He also shows why the supposed "time gap" between Jesus living and the writing of ;the accounts is only a few years due to the witness of Paul, and not decades as some propose.

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit. We will re-record the seminar when we are able.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Darrell Bock addresses when the authenticity of the gospels is questioned due to faulty human memory. Some people claim that since we do not know for sure who wrote the gospels, we cannot trust their message. Others argue that there is nothing special about presenting Jesus as a common miracle worker. In this session, Dr. Bock answers each of these charges.

    We apologize for the poor quality of the recording. We lost the main video feed, but felt the content was too important to omit.

  • How scholarship has created a series of rules they use to judge the authenticity of a gospel passage. Dr. Bock critiques those rules and shows how they still can argue for the authenticity of the core events of the gospel message.

  • Two key events in the gospels, Jesus' trial and the resurrection. Using the rules of scholarship, he shows that even by those standards these events are authentic.

  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Blomberg addresses seven questions during a Q&A session.

  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • In this final talk, Blomberg addresses the final nine questions from the audience.

  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt, and how can you trust your translation where there are so many? This class walks you through the process of how we received our Bible and why we can trust it.

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallaces discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. Dr. Piper discusses the content, cohesiveness, scope and power of the Bible.

Course: Why We Trust Our Bible

Lecture: Manuscripts and Codexes

 

I. The Early Church and a Culture of Textuality

So when we ask the question about how the canon developed in early Christianity and who received it and what books were being used. There are multiple ways to answer that question and the most common way is what I call patristic citations. In other words, in asking what books the church received, you simply look at what the church fathers were quoting. That is one way to do it. What you will discover is that most books of the canon will go that route. It looks at what the church fathers say or how they use a book. But there is a whole other area that you can explore that tells us a lot about the early canon that is often overlooked and that is the use of early Christian manuscripts. We can learn about what books Christians were reading and what books they preferred to use and which books they would have regarded as important by the manuscripts they leave behind. We know that Christians had a culture of textuality. What we mean by this is that Christians were a bookish religion. They used books in great numbers; they copied them, they read them, they taught from them. We have the remnants of those books still in the historical record. So when we ask what make Christianity unique, just like Judaism, Christianity used books in their religious activities. And they used those books in great numbers. So because Christianity had this culture, we can look at those manuscripts they left behind and we can learn a lot about the canon from these books. This opens up a whole universe to use that typically isn’t considered at all. There are lots of different ways to ascertain as to what the manuscripts tell us.

The manuscripts or the fragments left behind tell us which books were popular in early Christianity. We can see how they are by simply counting them. If we can see how many manuscripts left behind of certain books, we know those books were copied more often and probably read more often and therefore more popular. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries with the earlier generations of Christians, we see the books that eventually made it into the New Testament. They were copied much more than books that we refer to as New Testament Apocrypha. So we have over sixty manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd century of such New Testament books and we look at the comparable works of the New Testament Apocrypha in that same period of time, it is not even close. This tells us when you ask the question about which books Christians were reading, it looks a lot like it was those books that made it into the New Testament. We can see that the popularity of books can be ascertained by the sheer number of manuscripts that are remnant.

The other thing that we can learn about the canon from Christians is the way in which they used a distinctive book format. When people think about ancient books, they typical think about scrolls. And in the ancient world of the 1st century when Christianity was born, what is interesting is that Christianity was born into a world that vastly preferred the scroll from other kinds of writing. They came from a Jewish heritage that preferred the scroll. The Greco-Roman world preferred the scroll for its literature and what we call literary documents. But yet, when Christians started to write by way of the codex, this was something very interesting. They didn’t use the scroll; in fact they use a distinctive book technology, what we call a codex. This is actually what we still use today; the codex was a typical leaf book where there was writing on both sides of the page and the pages are bound at the spine. Whereas the scroll, writing was only on one side of the page. Christians had this distinctive book technology which they adopted in a very early time period, probably by the turn of the 1st or 2nd century. In fact, it was so widespread that we can hardly find a New Testament book in early Christianity not written on a codex. There are hardly any. Every time we find a copy of a New Testament book even as far back as the 2nd century, it is always on a codex. This raises the question in regards to why Christians preferred the codex. There is a long-standing debate about this but the answer, generally speaking, is that the codex allowed Christians to group books together. It allowed Christians to link multiple books in a single volume in a way that would allow them to have a sort of beginning canon. Most people think that the codex was chosen because it could hold all four Gospels in a single volume. Others suggested that it was because of Paul’s letters which could be put into a single volume. Regardless of whether it was the Gospels or Paul’s letters or something else; but it seems that the emergence of the codex was associated with the emergence of the canon. You could almost say that the adoption of the codex is a symptom of the canonical process. It is an example of how Christians wanted to lump and connect together multiple books in a single volume. This was something that a codex could easily do.

II. What about the Four Canonical Gospels with an Apocryphal Gospel.

One of the things that were also interesting about the Codex, very quickly Christians began to put multiple Gospels in a single codex. We have codices that contain just one Gospel; for example P66, an example of a late 2nd-century codex that contains the Gospel of John. Then we have other Gospel codices that contain multiple Gospels, like P75 or P45 and we have many later multi-Gospel codices. So Christian began to take multiple Gospels and put them into the same volume. What is interesting here, when we see Christians do that, we never have an incident where there is a mix of canonical and Apocrypha Gospels. This is a stunning fact in early Christian manuscripts. For example, we never see codices that contain: Matthew, Mark and Thomas or Matthew, Luke and Peter or Matthew, John and Mary. But critical scholars are always telling us that in the early century that Christians read everything with no priority in reading any particular book; it was a literary free for all and that apocryphal books were just as popular as canonical books, etc. If that was true, you would expect to see jumbling of Gospels. They would be mixed up with canonical and apocryphal Gospels within the same codex and only later were they split up, but that is not what we find. As far back as we can go when Gospels were joined, it was always Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So, it seems from a very early point Christians weren’t confused about what to read when it comes to the Gospels. It was fairly clear, when you were looking for the primary sources for Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the first places to go.

III. The Frequency of Public Reading

One of the interesting things about the Christian use of the codex is not that they just used the codex which is interesting in its own right. But it is the particular Scribal features in the codices that Christians made. What we often see in Christian codices is that they have been written for public reading. Now, people may hear that and think that all people were written for public reading. No, they weren’t. In the Greco-Roman world, books were written in such a way that they were more like works of art than being designed for public reading. The lines were very tight, no spaces between letters, no reading aids or punctuation aids. It was more of a high piece of art in some way rather than be destined for practical reading. It doesn’t mean that the Greco-Roman world didn’t read those books. But certainly, they were more for display if you want to think of it that way rather than functionality. When we look at Christian codices, they were very different in that they were clearly written not to be put on display but they were written for a particular function, that is, for public reading. We see this by seeing a lot more space between lines thus helping the reader in the reading process. They had less letters per page, they spaced thing out to also help with reading. They also had more punctuation, more reader’s aids. There was reading marks, other kinds of pauses, spaces, middle points, all designed to help the reader to read. This tells us that these Gospels were designed to be read publicly. We also know that such a book would have a certain level of authority. If you read a book in church, it would be similar to reading a book in the synagogue. In would be indicative that it was a Scriptural book. In fact, Paul tells us that he wanted his letters to be read publically in the church. Putting all this information together, it tells us that when Christians were copying these books, even the format in which they were copied tells us that Christian valued them in a Scriptural way. They valued them as public reading documents. This tells us of the concept of a canon was actually very early. It was as far back as these manuscripts take us which were as far back as the 2nd century. It also tells us that it wasn’t a late idea but a very early one.