Markus Vinzent's Blog

Friday, 20 January 2012

Reception and dating of the canonical Gospels

Only recently, in a centenary review of 2005, Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett have picked up the often used, but rarely diligently read slender work of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology of 1905, entitled The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, brought together a group of specialists and reviewed these earlier findings. William L. Petersen gives a short summary of what had been achieved at Oxford over a hundred years ago:
The charge given the committee [of the Oxford Society of Historical Theology] was ‘to prepare a volume exhibiting those passages of early Christian writers which indicate, or have been thought to indicate, acquaintance with any of the books of the New Testament’. The committee limited itself to the so-called Apostolic Fathers, examining eight authors (and/or texts) [i.a. Barn., Did., 1Clem., Ign., PolPhil., Herm., 2Clem.]. … The 1905 researchers ranked the likelihood that a specific Father demonstrated knowledge of a given book in the New Testament by assigning each possible intersection a letter grade from ‘A’ to ‘D’. ‘A’ designated ‘books about which there can be no reasonable doubt’ that the Father knew it; ‘B’ referred to books where there was a ‘a high degree of probability’. ‘C’ referred to a ‘lower degree of probability’. And ‘D’ meant that the evidence was ‘too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it’. A table on page 137 summarized the results. Out of a total of 216 possible intersections between a Father and a specific book, conclusions were possible in only eighty-five of the intersections, 39 per cent. Out of those eighty-five places where it was possible to assign a letter rank, we find forty-three Ds and twenty-two Cs. There are fourteen Bs (eight of them, however, come from a single source: Polycarp), and six As. … The most remarkable aspect of the 1905 volume is the fact that now, a century later, the significance of the ‘formal’ results achieved by the committee … pale into insignificance when compared with the notes the researchers offered on the passages they examined. … The 1905 researches … were well aware of the multiplicity of possible explanations for the evidence they found in the Apostolic Fathers; they were also acutely aware of their inability to reach definitive judgements on the basis of the evidence. All they could do was follow the via negative: the source(s) used in about three-quarters of the passages in the Apostolic Fathers with a parallel in the New Testament … ‘affords no evidence for the use of either of our Gospels in its present form’; that being the case, one had to consider … ‘the direct use of another [viz. non-canonical (W.L. Petersen)] source altogether, whether oral or written’.[1]
W.L. Petersen concludes his summary pointing out that ‘their empirical, textual observations were devastating for the idea of a ‘standard’ or ‘established’ text of the New Testament in the first half of the second century. And he specifies the results from his own reading of them:
First, it is clear that the vast majority of passages in the Apostolic Fathers for which one can find likely parallels in the New Testament have deviations from our present, critically reconstructed New Testament text. It must be emphasized that the vast majority of these deviations are not minor (e.g., differences in spelling or verb tense), but major (a completely new context, a substantial interpolation or omission, a conflation of two entirely separate ideas and/or passages).
Second, harmonization is a surprisingly common phenomenon. Sometimes the harmonizations are (almost) entirely composed of material found in our modern editions of the New Testament; more often,however, they contain material which we today classify as extra-canonical.
Third, the Apostolic Fathers often reproduce, without remark, material that we, today, call extracanonical. Sometimes this extra-canonical material is introduced with the quotation formula – such as, ‘the Lord says’, or ‘the Gospel says’. The obvious inference is that the Faher considered this extra-canonical source as authoritative as any other. … Some might wonder if the disagreements would disappear if the basis for comparison were changed from our modern critically reconstructed text to the texts of the ‘great uncials’ of the mid-fourth century (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus). They do not. Even if the basis for comparison is changed to the text of our oldest continuous-text manuscripts of the New Testament documents (P64+67 + P66 [both of which date from ‘ca. 200’, W.L. Petersen]), the differences remain. One simply must admit that the passages found in the Apostolic Fathers are different from the texts found in our oldest New Testament papyri, from the texts of the ‘great uncials’, and from the text of our modern editions.[2]
How can we account for these findings, if the later canonical Gospels were written before 100, or around 70, or, as some opt, in the early 40th and had become authoritative readings in the community? Petersen sees only two models of explanation, one which is ‘profoundly flawed’ and another one which seems the only way to make sense. The first, flawed model would assume that the ‘deviations’ from the established and fixed texts of the Gospels and Letters, dated to the first century, ‘would be – as suggested by many Victorian (and even contemporary) scholars – due to citation from memory or adapting the text to the purposes of the moment (e.g., preaching, evangelizing, teaching, disputing):[3]
In the first half of the second century – that is, in the age of the Apostolic Fathers – and even later, into the time of Tatian and Clement of Alexandria (near the end of the second century), there was neither a fixed canon nor a fixed text for any of the New Testament documents. Rather, ‘clusters’ of sayings/episodes/parts of (what later became our canonical) gospels and epistles circulated, initially (for the gospels, at least) probably without a title, and then, later, with a title. But the contents of the ‘cluster’ bearing the title ‘Mark’ or ‘Romans’ was still very much in flux and subject to change. Additions were still being made, as were deletions; the sequence of the text was still being modified. … Subscribing to this model has certain consequences. It means that scholars must be very circumspect about attributing anything to the first-century church. And what evidence we have from the second century – in the Apostolic Fathers, for example – hardly inspires confidence. The problems are not confined to the liberties taken with the texts …, but also extend to the matter of the boundary between what would later be called canonical and extra-canonical texts, and the citation of extra-canonical material as ‘gospel’ or logia Iesou during the age of the Apostolic Fathers. The issue, then, is not just one of the texts being unsettled, but also one of which documents (or, more properly, clusters of material) and which traditions were authoritative, and which were not.
W.L. Petersen is joined in his judgement by J. Keith Elliott: ‘As far as the Apostolic Fathers are concerned, we may well agree that they, like Justin and most other early writers, are unlikely to have had access to the “published” documents’.[4] As has been shown by Elliott, W.L. Petersen’s view is materially embedded in the critical apparatus of both the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies’ Greek Testament hand editions which with the exception of Did. 8,2 (// Matth. 6:9) in Nestle-Aland ignore even the very few ‘A’-rated citations in their critical apparatus.[5]
That the Gospels are not quoted or referred to in our early Christian literature prior to Marcion[6] is clouded by the boundaries between the disciplines of New Testament Studies and Patristics. The well-known reference work, Biblia Patristica, for example, covers texts ‘from the origins to Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian’ in its first volume, but excludes all writings that can be found in the New Testament. If these were included, it would become even more apparent that pp. 223-415 of this volume listing over 10,000 quotes (!) from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the period from Marcion onwards, does not provide a single one (!) for the time before Marcion. The first arguable cases are those authors who are sometimes dated to the beginning of the second century (Ignatius, Papias, Polycarp, Hegesippus), which, however, many scholars rather date contemporary or later than Marcion. But even, if we date them early and include them into the comparison with the Gospel, we come to the same conclusion as shown by the findings of the 1905 Oxford researchers and the revisiting of these findings in 2005.


[1] W.L. Petersen, ‘Textual Traditions Examined’ (2005), 29-32.
[2] W.L. Petersen, ‘Textual Traditions Examined’ (2005), 33f.
[3] W.L. Petersen, ‘Textual Traditions Examined’ (2005),42-5 gives a fourfold account why he finds this model untenable.
[4] J.K. Elliott, ‘Absent Witnesses?’ (2005), 53.
[5] See J.K. Elliott, ‘Absent Witnesses?’ (2005), 48.
[6] A fact that is, for example, clouded by the boundaries between the disciplines of New Testament Studies and Patristics. The well-known reference work, Biblia Patristica, for example, covers texts ‘from the origins to Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian’ in its first volume, but excludes all writings that can be found in the New Testament. If these were included, it would become even more apparent that pp. 223-415 on quotes from Matth., Mark, Luke and John resulted in entries only that derive from the time of Marcion onwards.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Prof Vinzent,

    I'm writing to ask you about this post you made elsewhere regarding the understanding of grace in the apostolic fathers: http://oxfordpatristics.blogspot.com/2011/06/christopher-bounds-understanding-of.html

    Have you published that paper and is it available? I'm highly interested in the topic given the dearth of writing on it outside of TF Torrance's early thesis. Would be delighted to correspond with you over email if there is one I can write you at?

    Thanks
    Sacha

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  2. Dear Sascha,
    of course you can write to me - just look up the King's College website and write to me, and I'll get back to you,
    yours Markus

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  3. Hi Prof Vinzent,

    I'm writing to ask you about the paper you mentioned here: http://oxfordpatristics.blogspot.com/2011/06/christopher-bounds-understanding-of.html

    I'm very interested in your work given the dearth of material on the topic outside of TF Torrance's early thesis. Is your paper available currently?

    Would be delighted to talk more about this via email if you have one I can write you at.

    Thanks,
    Sacha, Oregon, USA

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  4. Ok will do that, thank you.

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  5. I Agree to read excellent content to use for me. By Printing and Trade Printer

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  6. Hi, Prof. Vinzent - love your work! Say, I've been reading up on Theophilus of Antioch (supposedly late 2nd Century CE), and I wonder if you have studied his writings at all. Granted, the only copies we have are from the 11th or 12th Century CE, and there don't appear to be any scans of the manuscripts available, which is annoying. Two issues:
    1) When Theophilus of Antioch's writings include wording that sounds suspiciously like that found in Gospel of John passages, *WHY* is it that the only conclusion scholars seem able to imagine is that T of A was writing with the Gospel of John in hand? Especially since T of A seems completely unaware of any "Jesus Christ" (the whole focus of the Gospel of John!), isn't it more rational to conclude that perhaps the writer of the Gospel of John adopted T of A's theology in that writing?

    2) What do you think of the hypothesis that T of A is the very same "Theophilus" both the Gospel of Luke and Acts are addressed to? Assuming all the people existed and the dates are largely correct, T of A was the central figure of a large network of churches around Antioch, where they called themselves "Christians" because they anointed themselves with "holy oil." Acts 11:26 acknowledges that the name "Christians" was first used in Antioch. If T of A's theology was great enough to recycle, might the church at Rome have sought to get T on board with them by sending him these two documents and thus consolidate their movements?

    Thanks so much!
    Laurie, California, USA

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    Replies
    1. Dear Laurie,
      thanks so much for your remarks, your observations and your questions. They have made me to broaden my book in the making (Marcion and the Dating of the Gospels) to not only include the texts from the second century where Marcion is directly addressed, but also present in more details as I have undertaken so far those authors of whom we know that they have actively engaged with Marcion, such as Theophilus who wrote a Book against him. Let me ponder on your first question. As Theophilus mentions John as an inspired author, although he differentiates him from the 'holy scriptures' (note the mistaken identification in the Dictionary of Christian Biography, p. 982), and subsequently quotes from his text only the opening preface (which must have been written already in the times of Ptolemaius, see Iren., AH I 8.5), it is unlikely that John adopted ToA's theology in the preface. Unfortunately, we do not know yet when the rest of the Gospel was written, the only indication we have is that the Gospel-writing must have taken place before Heracleon, a pupil of Valentinus (like Ptolemy?) set his pen to write a commentary on it (see Elaine H. Pagels, The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis: Heracleon's Commentary on John [Nashville and New York, 1973]. Important, however, is that in ToA's Ad Autolycum II 22 John is not counted amongst the holy scriptures, although the writing is credited to be an inspired one. Similarly, when you look at other uses of Scriptures in ToA, you will recognize that he is entirely focussed on the Jewish writings, especially the Thora and in it book Genesis. Except the Jewish Scriptures, especially the prophets, Theophilus does not know of any other ‘sacred Scripture’, although he speaks about ‘the evangelic voice’, ‘the Gospel’ and also ‘the Gospels’ as ‘being inspired’ as the prophets ‘by one Spirit of God’. He even takes John as supporting the creation account of Genesis - and it does not surprise us that Adolf von Harnack thought that when Irenaeus shows parallels especially to Ad Autolycum II 22-25, Irenaeus did not use this book, but the lost work of ToA against Marcion. Moreover, where ToA quotes sayings of the Lord, he does not refer to any canonical form of them, but as I will show in the book, relies on a Gospel harmony (you get pieces that remind of Matthew and Marcion's Gospel/Luke) which re-inforces Jerome's statement (Jerome, Epistula 121,6) that ToA put himself together a Gospel Harmony. It does not seem, however, that John was part of this Harmony, however, we can infer from a close comparison of the texts that the Gospel-harmony seems to have left aside texts where the two, Marcion (or Luke) and Matthew, differed and only took on board where they agreed, he also added own material. As you can see, Theophilus has a clear stand against Marcion’s understanding of Scripture, explains that not God, the creator and punisher, is the originator of evil or evil himself, but that evil comes with the transgressor and sinner. And yet, Theophilus also accepts Marcion’s idea that Christians have ‘the Gospel(s)’. By this Theophilus means oracles which he put together in a Gospel-harmony, but also from Luke (if not directly from Marcion against whom he wrote) and from Matthew, but he also knew of the preface of John (1:1-3), whom he sees as a spirit bearing or inspired men, but distinguish from the ‘holy scriptures’, and he knows of the ‘divine Logos’ that provides 1Tim 2:2 and Rom. 13:7-8.

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    2. Dear Laurie,
      Let me come to your second question. It would be easy to imagine, if Luke and Acts were written in Theophilus' time that they were addressed to him. And indeed, Luke's preface does not exclude this, on the contrary. Their common critical dependance on Marcion (with their outright rejection of Marcion's rigorous positions, ToA in his work against him, Luke in moderating Paul, but also Marcion's Gospel) are good support for your idea. Hence, it could well be that the teacher who re-wrote Marcion's Gospel to produce Luke and added Acts wanted to get support by ToA and his Antiochene network. But let me ponder more about the latter point.

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    3. Dear Dr. Vinzent,
      Sorry to be getting back to you so late. Very interesting ideas - can't wait for the new book! Now back to the Logos concept, some point to Philo as the source of this concept that informs the Christian writings:

      "Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made." – Philo, "The Special Laws", I (81)

      Philo was Jewish, of course, and the Stoics used this "Logos" motif in describing their god and its properties:

      According to the Stoics, the universe is a material, reasoning substance, known as God or Nature, which the Stoics divided into two classes, the active and the passive. The passive substance is matter, which "lies sluggish, a substance ready for any use, but sure to remain unemployed if no one sets it in motion." The active substance, which can be called Fate, or Universal Reason (Logos), is an intelligent aether or primordial fire, which acts on the passive matter:

      The universe itself is god and the universal outpouring of its soul; it is this same world's guiding principle, operating in mind and reason, together with the common nature of things and the totality that embraces all existence; then the foreordained might and necessity of the future; then fire and the principle of aether; then those elements whose natural state is one of flux and transition, such as water, earth, and air; then the sun, the moon, the stars; and the universal existence in which all things are contained. — Chrysippus, in Cicero, de Natura Deorum, i.

      Everything is subject to the laws of Fate, for the Universe acts only according to its own nature, and the nature of the passive matter it governs. The souls of people and animals are emanations from this primordial fire, and are, likewise, subject to Fate:

      Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iv. 40.

      Individual souls are perishable by nature, and can be "transmuted and diffused, assuming a fiery nature by being received into the Seminal Reason (logos spermatikos) of the Universe." Since right Reason is the foundation of both humanity and the universe, it follows that the goal of life is to live according to Reason, that is, to live a life according to Nature. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism

      I'm sure you are more knowledgeable about the Stoics than I am (wouldn't take much *wink*). Apparently, their movement began in about the 3rd Century BCE and went until the 4th or 5th Century CE, so this "logos" concept was "in the air", so to speak, and I do not find it at all surprising that it would have made its way somehow into the Christology that was developing during this same time frame. I personally feel that human beings remain rather in awe of the power of spoken/written language, which is why magical, creative power is often attributed to spoken words, as in Genesis where God *speaks* reality into being and various magic spells and incantations across various religions including Christianity. To be continued...Laurie

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    4. Dear Dr. Vinzent,

      Here's Part II: Now, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (ca. 156 CE), compares the way Christians view the "Word of God" (I'm assuming the original untranslated text uses "Logos") to how the Romans regard the same concept:

      And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic Word of God. - Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, Chapter XXII

      I take the liberty of matching the capitalizations of "Word", above, which the official translation does not, rendering the Mercury-Word as "word" which seems to me a bit intellectually dishonest and biased *ahem* I'd be very surprised if Justin Martyr's handwriting extended itself to such specific capitalizations...

      But anyhow, back to TofA. You mentioned (note the mistaken identification in the Dictionary of Christian Biography, p. 982) - I'm guessing you meant this?

      More important is a distinct citation from the opening of St. John's Gospel (i. I-3), mentioning the evangelist by name, as one of the inspired men by whom the Holy Scriptures were written (ii.22). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wace/biodict/Page_982.html

      For TofA, "Holy Scripture" meant the Jewish scriptures - this much is clear. The fact that he goes into such excruciating detail in his analysis of the content of the Jewish scriptures, and then just tosses in that Logos passage in such an offhand manner - he could not have had a similar body of Christian text on hand, or else he would have given it at least the same treatment he'd given the Jewish scripture! It sounds more to me like a favored saying, perhaps something he himself was fond of repeating. From TofA, we still have no idea of its source, which is why I would *love* to see the manuscripts.

      One of my concerns with TofA as a source is that there do not appear to be any scans of the manuscripts available for examination. You don't have any, do you? The only extant copies appear to be one from the 10th or 11th Century CE, and two partial copies of that one, all presently being kept in Venice, Italy. As you noted, above, erroneous identifications are part and parcel of Christian scholarship, which makes a look at the originals all the more indispensable. Given how late these manuscripts are, there has been plenty of time for pious "adjustment" and "correction". It may be impossible to reconstruct the original content on the basis of these late copies, but there might be marginal glosses and insertions that can still be detected. In particular, I suspect that Theophilus used the term "Chrestians" rather than "Christians", because of his emphasis on "good and serviceable", although his emphasis on the "christening" with the holy oil of God could likewise form a basis for arguing "Christians". Likewise, I'm wondering if the "one of whom, John, says" (Book II, Ch. XXII) might remain as a marginal gloss that the translators helpfully incorporated into the text.

      For example, we hear of Theophilus as the first to mention a "trinitarian" formula:

      The sun is the image of God; the moon of man, whose death and resurrection are prefigured by the monthly changes of that luminary. The first three days before the creation of the havenly bodies are types of the Trinity - the first place in Christian writings where the word is known to occur (lib. ii. c. I5) - i.e. "God, His Word and His Wisdom." (from p. 982 of the Dictionary of Christian Biography) ...to be continued (again) Cheers! Laurie

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    5. Dear Dr. Vinzent,

      Here is the final installment - thanks for bearing with me!

      But we also find THIS in Theophilus:

      For if I say He is Light, I name but His own work; if I call Him Word, I name but His sovereignty; if I call Him Mind, I speak but of His wisdom; if I say He is Spirit, I speak of His breath; if I call Him Wisdom, I speak of His offspring; if I call Him Strength, I speak of His sway; if I call Him Power, I am mentioning His activity; if Providence, I but mention His goodness; if I call Him Kingdom, I but mention His glory; if I call Him Lord, I mention His being judge; if I call Him Judge, I speak of Him as being just; if I call Him Father, I speak of all things as being from Him; if I call Him Fire, I but mention His anger. - Book I, Ch. III

      Somehow no one sees fit to mention the above "triskedalian formula" :)

      If good Theophilus had, indeed, the Gospel of John in any form recognizable to us in front of him, Theophilus' writings become incomprehensible - there is simply no way he could have written what he did and how he did if he had had the Gospel of John.

      One final question to you: Have you personally *seen* any scans of the actual Vaticanus? All I can find online is from 1868 (if memory serves) - someone did a transcription, had a special typeset made, and then printed off a (pseudo)facsimile. Trouble is, there is more than one version, and the distinction of "more reliable" is made between them, which raises red flags for me. This fact is acknowledged here: http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript/View/GA_03

      When someone first pointed to these as scans of the actual Vaticanus, I was alarmed, as the text is too clear, the pages too clean, for this to be 1700 years old. Time is not this kind to manuscripts or the materials they are written with/on. Even when the writings are "sacred."

      Cheers! Laurie

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  7. Hi, Prof. Vinzent - love your work! Say, I've been reading up on Theophilus of Antioch (supposedly late 2nd Century CE), and I wonder if you have studied his writings at all. Granted, the only copies we have are from the 11th or 12th Century CE, and there don't appear to be any scans of the manuscripts available, which is annoying. Two issues:

    1) When Theophilus of Antioch's writings include wording that sounds suspiciously like that found in Gospel of John passages, *WHY* is it that the only conclusion scholars seem able to imagine is that T of A was writing with the Gospel of John in hand? Especially since T of A seems completely unaware of any "Jesus Christ" (the whole focus of the Gospel of John!), isn't it more rational to conclude that perhaps the writer of the Gospel of John adopted T of A's theology in that writing?

    I realize this would place the composition of the Gospel of John far later than the church would like, but the earlier dating seems based more on wishful thinking than actual data.

    2) What do you think of the hypothesis that T of A is the very same "Theophilus" both the Gospel of Luke and Acts are addressed to? Assuming all the people existed and the dates are largely correct, T of A was the central figure of a large network of churches around Antioch, where they called themselves "Christians" because they anointed themselves with "holy oil." Acts 11:26 acknowledges that the name "Christians" was first used in Antioch. If T of A's theology was great enough to recycle, might the church at Rome have sought to get T on board with them by sending him these two documents and thus consolidate their movements?

    Thanks so much!
    Blanche, California, USA

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  8. Dear Laurie,
    as I'd like to quote your idea in my forthcoming book, could you send me your full name, so that I can add the proper acknowledgment,
    thanks yours Markus

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