Friday, February 4, 2011

Ancient Texts are a Thin Reed to Hang Your Faith On

I'm currently reading The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story by Richard Pervo. Interestingly, another book of Pervo's was recently released entitled The Making of Paul: Constructions of the Apostle in Early Christianity

Here's a portion of a review of the book:

"[Pervo] addresses how Paul became a book, how the tradition was shaped in thepseudepigraphic Pauline letters, what became of Paul in early Christian epistolary andnarrative tradition, and how he fared among the anti-Paulinists as well as those for whomhe became an object of interpretation.

"The thesis of this book is that the only real Paul is the dead Paul. Even though some of Paul’s actual words undoubtedly survive, the entire Pauline corpus has gone through a process of selection and editing that served the needs of varied and diverse early Christian communities. Likewise, as the author rightly points out, authorship in the ancient worldhad more to do with what he calls authority and orientation than it did actual textual composition."

For those who want to present the letters of Paul and other New Testament documents as evidence of miracles, maybe you should give it up. We don't have the original manuscripts. The more I read New Testament scholarship, the less I believe the apologetical reassurances that "even if we don't have the originals, we can still deduce what they said with over 99% accuracy." Don't be so sure. We don't have any copies of these until the fourth century, even fourth and fifth century manuscripts are rare. As the review of this book shows, just exactly how much of the New Testament has been doctored is open to debate.


billybob111 said...

You do realize there are NT papyri that reach earlier than the 4th century, don't you?...

Examples of 3rd century would be P46, P66

P52 is from the 2nd...

AIGBusted said...

You do realize that all of those are highly fragmentary? And you do realize that P52 may date as late as the early third centruy, don't you?