Category Archives: Palaeography


2016-04-04

Little White Lies: Is the NT the Best Attested Work from Antiquity?

by Tim Widowfield
Frederick Fyvie Bruce

Frederick Fyvie Bruce

What does it mean to say that a written work from ancient times is “well attested”? If you browse Christian apologetic web sites, you’ll read that the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is superior to anything else from antiquity. The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) site, for example, tells us that our “New Testament documents are better preserved and more numerous than any other ancient writings.”

This argument, of course, is not new. F. F. Bruce often argued that we hold the NT to an unreasonably higher standard than any other ancient document or set of documents. He lamented that people tend to dwell on the mistakes and discrepancies in the manuscripts. Back in 1963 he wrote:

In view of the inevitable accumulation of such errors over the many centuries, it may be thought that the original texts of the New Testament documents have been corrupted beyond restoration. Some writers, indeed, insist on the likelihood of this to such a degree that one sometimes suspects they would be glad if it were true. But they are mistaken. There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament. (F. F. Bruce, 1963, p. 178, emphasis mine)

As you can see, apologetic victimhood is nothing new.

Ever so much greater

In a more recent work he said that the NT gets unfair treatment. He complained:

The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. (F. F. Bruce, 1981, p. 10, emphasis mine)

In the foreword to the same book, N. T. Wright gushed: read more »


2013-03-10

More On Dating New Testament Manuscripts (and the Rylands Fragment P52 again)

by Neil Godfrey

In my previous post I addressed the question of the famous P52 manuscript. But the article by Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse is more generally a critique of “theological palaeography” and I highlight here some of their other more points about the principles involved with the dating of manuscripts.

The page references are from Pasquale Orsini & Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-74. (In the extracts I am responsible for all bolding of text and formatting that goes beyond normal paragraphing.)

1. The Problem of Dating Literary Papyri

Only a few literary papyri can be dated thanks to

  • circumstantial evidence — i.e. their archaeological or historical context
  • or when they belong to a dated archive
  • or when they are written on the back or front of documentary text (this can give a terminus post — if written on the back; or an ante quem — if a dated document is written on their verso/back)

Other manuscripts (the majority) are thus dated by comparing their handwriting to datable scripts. This gives a relative, not absolute, date for most.

2. New Testament Texts and their Dates

New Testament manuscripts are more problematic than other literary texts since they are nearly always written as part of a codex. This means that the script is the same on both sides of each page and neither side can be used to establish a terminus ante or post quem.

Gradually, however, an uneasy consensus has been reached among papyrologists, and the result of this is found in the dates put forward by Nestle-Aland.

NESTLE–ALAND, 1994 = K. ALAND, Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Hand-schriften des Neuen Testaments. Zweite, neugearbeitete und ergänzte Auflage, bearbeitet von K. ALAND, in Verbindung mit M. WELTE, B. KÖSTER und K. JUNACK (Arbeiten zur Neutestamentlichen Textforschung 1), Berlin – New York, 1994;

see updates in: http://intf.uni-muenster.de/vmr/NTVMR/ListeHandschriften.php

As I cited in my previous post, no NT manuscripts are dated to the first century and “only very few to the second century.”

Recently even these early dates have been called into question by R.S. Bagnall [see R.S. BAGNALL, Early Christian Books in Egypt, Princeton, NJ – Oxford, 2009, pp. 11-18.]

Stepping outside of the Orsini-Clarysse article for a moment, here are three online reviews of Bagnall’s book: read more »