Tag Archives: Manuscript

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

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 »

Confessional Bias & Tendentious Dating of Manuscripts

The verso of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

Patristic scholar Markus Vinzent has posted a few clear-headed pointers in relation to Dan Wallace’s apparent claims concerning the discovery of a piece of papyri containing some of the Gospel of Mark “reliably dated” — through paleography —  to the first century.

Does confessional bias enter this scholarly debate? Markus thinks so:

While ideological disagreements, based on denominations, confessions, even religious backgrounds are mostly remnants of the past and rarely present in Patristic studies, we learn from this debate that whether one is evangelical or critical of evangelicals has even a bearing on the dating of papyri, something, the innocent scholar should think is a matter for impartial scholars to decide. And yet, because we are not dealing with bare evidence, but with witnesses of ‘canonical’ texts, ‘pure’ scholarship operates on a stage that is set by vested interests. How can one avoid to be located in any of the preset sceneries?

Markus includes a reminder about the same problem in relation to P52, the piece of manuscript containing words from the Gospel of John, that many “firmly date” to the first half of the second century

In his article on the misuse of papyrology in New Testament studies, B. Nongbri summarises what he calls ‘nothing surprising to papyrologists: palaeography is not the most effective method for dating texts, particularly those written in a literary hand … Any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. Thus, P52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the second century. Only a papyrus containing an explicit date or one found in a clear archaeological stratigraphic context could do the work scholars want P52 to do.

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