Review of The Early Text of the New Testament (Part III)

earlytextTitle: The Early Text of the New Testament

Editors: Charles Hill and Michael Kruger

Bibliographic info: xiv + 413 + 69

Cover: Hard with Dust-jacket

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2012

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to the kind folk at OUP for the review copy!

Part I and Part II of this review.

The third section of this wonderful volume is on the early citation/use of New Testament writings. The first chapter in this section, chapter 14 (pp. 261-81), is from the pen of editor Charles Hill. The main thrust of his contribution is that it is too simplistic, and ultimately wrong, to take loose citations of the NT in other early Christian writings as support for a NT text different to that found in actual NT manuscripts. Neither should it be taken as support for “an erratic NT text” (262) in the second century, which only became more uniform due to a hypothetical late recension of the text. Regarding the ‘loose’ citations of the NT writings by early Christian authors (e.g. Justin), Hill says:

Literary Christians inherited, took part in, and contributed to a literary culture, Greek, Roman, and Jewish, which did not consider that the chief purpose of literary borrowing was to guarantee for the reader an exact replication of the text appropriated. (277)

In other words, these early Christian writers inherited from both the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures a literary approach which did not necessarily treasure the exact duplication of the text being cited (he provides evidence in support of this notion by inspecting examples of citations from the larger literary environment). Hill also makes the intriguing suggestion that this literary borrowing method may in fact “offer a partial explanation” for the resemblance between the NT text used by many patristic writers and the so-called Western text – “which is often seen not as a recension but as a tendency in copying.” (281)

The next chapter (pp. 282-301) is contributed by Paul Foster and is about the text of the New Testament to be found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The texts he examines are (predictably) the Didache, 1 & 2 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the epistles of Ignatius, and Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians. Not surprisingly, considering the dearth of NT quotes in the AF, he concludes that the loose citations of the NT text in the AF provides “no conclusive evidence for identifying the forms of the text of the NT which may have been in circulation in the second century” (300). He also makes the note that since the copies of the AF we possess date to the fourth century at the earliest, it would be “potentially naïve” to align them with a certain text type of the NT. For anyone interested in this topic, an exhaustive study of it can be found in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (ed’s Andrew Gregory and Christopher Tuckett; OUP, 2005).

Next up is Dieter Roth’s chapter on Marcion and the early NT text (pp. 302-12). This short chapter is an evaluation on what we can know about the Gospel and Pauline epistles known to Marcion. Joseph Verheyden (pp. 313-31) then takes a look at Justin’s text of the Gospels as found in First Apology 15.1-8, with the underlying question being as to whether the citation is best explained by a stylistic or compositional rationale, or whether it indicates that he had access to a different Gospel text.

Tjitze Baarda is the author of the next chapter (pp. 336-49) and is on Tatian’s Diatessaron and the Greek text of the Gospels (note that Baarda believes the Diatessaron was originally written in Greek, not Syriac). This was one of the top essays in this volume in my opinion, though it is not a simple read! He concludes by saying: “it is my conviction that it is not possible to make the Diatessaron a standard witness in any apparatus” (348), and that “one has to be very cautious in attributing the label ‘Diatessaron’ to a specific Greek (variant) reading in the apparatus, even if one might be quite certain that Tatian had read that reading or perhaps created it” (349). Though Baarda does add the caveat that the Diatessaron could be an important witness “if we possessed it in its original Greek form” (349).

Chapter 19 (pp. 350-69), my favorite in the volume, is from Stanley Porter and is on the relationship between the NT text and the apocryphal gospels. While Porter determines that the evidence of the Greek NT in the early apocryphal gospels is relatively scant, those who do use the canonical Gospels typically improved, modified, or conflated the canonical Gospels. Furthermore, the Gospel of John oftentimes is drawn upon in the apocryphal gospels too, either on its own or together with the Synoptics. The most interesting conclusion of Porter’s is that from the evidence of the apocryphal gospels we can say that “the text of the Greek New Testament was relatively well established and fixed by the time of the second and third centuries” (369). One thing I should mention about this chapter is that there is a lot of Greek text in it and Porter does use syntax terminology quite heavily (e.g. predicates, modifiers, complements, etc). Reading this essay will definitely challenge your Greek reading skills and understanding of syntax!

Chapter 20 (pp. 370-92) is written by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Billy R. Todd, Jr. This contribution is a dense study on Irenaeus’s text of the Gospels in Adversus haereses. While Porter’s essay may have had a decent amount of Greek text in it, this one is completely laden with pages (!) of tables and statistics. If I blindly picked this book up and opened it to a page in this chapter, I would think I had opened up a critical edition of the Greek NT. There are entire pages listing the passages to be found in Adversus haereses from Matthew, Luke, and John, together with a whole bunch of textual variants and the manuscript evidence for each of them. This is accompanied by pages of tables displaying statistical analysis of the relationship between Irenaeus and the various text types (Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarean, and Western) of the Gospels. All I can say is thank the heavens for the concluding summary!

The final chapter (393-413) in this volume is Carl Cosaert’s essay on Gospel citations in Clement of Alexandria. This is similar to the previous essay in that it too contains lots of statistical tables, though this chapter is only meant to be a brief summary of the findings in Cosaert’s fuller study on this topic which is found in the monograph series The New Testament in the Greek Fathers (called The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria; SBL, 2008) One of his more interesting conclusions is that “Clement’s text was not monolithic” (413). For while Clement “shares his highest levels of agreement with other Alexandrian fathers” (412), his Gospel citations do not evince the dominance of a sole text type. Instead, Clement demonstrates the existence of two major textual streams during his time: the Alexandrian and Western (with a few Byzantine readings thrown in for good measure).

The book closes with the standard fare: a bibliography and indices of biblical citations, Greek manuscripts, and subjects. This volume is undoubtedly going to be a key reference work on the text of the NT in early Christianity for some time, but it is quite expensive at $150 (so I am very grateful to OUP for the gratuitous review copy)! I wouldn’t recommend anyone to spend that much money on a book, well at least not on a new book – if it was signed first edition of some old book, then sure! Perhaps a relatively inexpensive paperback copy will be released in a year or so, but until then I recommend that you pester your seminary/university library to purchase a copy of it!

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