Manual New Testament History: A Narrative Account

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Christian scholars assert that, when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, however, they were not defining something new but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church. The New Testament canon as it is now was first listed by St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria , in , in a letter written to his churches in Egypt, Festal Letter Also cited is the Council of Rome , but not without controversy. That canon gained wider and wider recognition until it was accepted at the Third Council of Carthage in and Even this council did not settle the matter, however.

Certain books, referred to as Antilegomena , continued to be questioned, especially James and Revelation. Even as late as the 16th century, the Reformer Martin Luther questioned but in the end did not reject the Epistle of James , the Epistle of Jude , the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Book of Revelation. To this day, German-language Luther Bibles are printed with these four books at the end of the canon, rather than in their traditional order as in other editions of the Bible.

In light of this questioning of the canon of Scripture by Protestants in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional western canon i.

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Thus, some claim that, from the 4th century , there existed unanimity in the West concerning the New Testament canon as it is today , [] and that, by the 5th century , the Eastern Church , with a few exceptions, had come to accept the Book of Revelation and thus had come into harmony on the matter of the canon. Although a number of Christians have thought that church councils determined what books were to be included in the biblical canons, a more accurate reflection of the matter is that the councils recognized or acknowledged those books that had already obtained prominence from usage among the various early Christian communities.

Christian scholars assert that when these bishops and councils spoke on the matter, they were not defining something new, but instead "were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church". Some synods of the 4th century published lists of canonical books e. Hippo and Carthage. Although these councils did include statements about the canon, when it came to the New Testament they were only reaffirming the existing canon, including the Antilegomena.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the New Testament: "The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council.

Athanasius Apol. Little else is known, though there is plenty of speculation. For example, it is speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus may be examples of these Bibles. Like other literature from antiquity , the text of the New Testament was prior to the advent of the printing press preserved and transmitted in manuscripts. Manuscripts containing at least a part of the New Testament number in the thousands. The earliest of these like manuscripts containing other literature are often very fragmentarily preserved.

Some of these fragments have even been thought to date as early as the 2nd century i.

For each subsequent century, more and more manuscripts survive that contain a portion or all of the books that were held to be part of the New Testament at that time for example, the New Testament of the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus , once a complete Bible, contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas , though occasionally these manuscripts contain other works as well e. The date when a manuscript was written, however, does not necessarily reflect the date of the form of text it contains.

That is, later manuscripts can, and occasionally do, contain older forms of text or older readings. Some of the more important manuscripts containing an early text of books of the New Testament are:. Textual criticism deals with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations such as including non-authentic additions.

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Even if the original Greek versions were lost, the entire New Testament could still be assembled from the translations. In addition, there are so many quotes from the New Testament in early church documents and commentaries that the entire New Testament could also be assembled from these alone.

For example, the Gnostic writings of Valentinus come from the 2nd century AD, and these Christians were regarded as heretics by the mainstream church. On noting the large number of surviving ancient manuscripts, Bruce Metzger sums up the view on the issue by saying "The more often you have copies that agree with each other, especially if they emerge from different geographical areas, the more you can cross-check them to figure out what the original document was like.

The only way they'd agree would be where they went back genealogically in a family tree that represents the descent of the manuscripts. In attempting to determine the original text of the New Testament books, some modern textual critics have identified sections as additions of material, centuries after the gospel was written.

These are called interpolations. In modern translations of the Bible, the results of textual criticism have led to certain verses, words and phrases being left out or marked as not original. According to Bart D. Ehrman , "These scribal additions are often found in late medieval manuscripts of the New Testament, but not in the manuscripts of the earlier centuries. Most modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate passages that have disputed source documents.

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Bible Commentaries also discuss these, sometimes in great detail. While many variations have been discovered between early copies of biblical texts, almost all have no importance, as they are variations in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Also, many of these variants are so particular to the Greek language that they would not appear in translations into other languages.

For example, order of words i. Outside of these unimportant variants, there are a couple variants of some importance. The two most commonly cited examples are the last verses of the Gospel of Mark [] [] [] and the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel of John. The often referred to Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, a book written to prove the validity of the New Testament, says: " A study of Greek [manuscripts] of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30, different readings It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the New Testament in which the [manuscript] is wholly uniform.

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By the 4th century, textual "families" or types of text become discernible among New Testament manuscripts. A "text-type" is the name given to a family of texts with similar readings due to common ancestors and mutual correction. Many early manuscripts, however, contain individual readings from several different earlier forms of text.

Modern texual critics have identified the following text-types among textual witnesses to the New Testament: The Alexandrian text-type is usually considered to generally preserve many early readings. It is represented, e. The Western text-type is generally longer and can be paraphrastic, but can also preserve early readings. The Western version of the Acts of the Apostles is, notably, 8. A text-type referred to as the " Caesarean text-type " and thought to have included witnesses such as Codex Koridethi and minuscule , can today be described neither as "Caesarean" nor as a text-type as was previously thought.

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However, the Gospel of Mark in Papyrus 45 , Codex Washingtonianus and in Family 13 does indeed reflect a distinct type of text. Increasing standardization of distinct and once local text-types eventually gave rise to the Byzantine text-type. Since most manuscripts of the New Testament do not derive from the first several centuries, that is, they were copied after the rise of the Byzantine text-type, this form of text is found the majority of extant manuscripts and is therefore often called the "Majority Text.

Biblical criticism is the scholarly "study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings.

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It will vary slightly depending on whether the focus is on the Old Testament , the letters of the New Testament, or the Canonical Gospels. It also plays an important role in the quest for the historical Jesus. It also addresses the physical text, including the meaning of the words and the way in which they are used, its preservation, history, and integrity. Biblical criticism draws upon a wide range of scholarly disciplines including archaeology , anthropology , folklore , linguistics , Oral Tradition studies , history, and religious studies.

The textual variation among manuscript copies of books in the New Testament prompted attempts to discern the earliest form of text already in antiquity e. The efforts began in earnest again during the Renaissance , which saw a revival of the study of ancient Greek texts.

During this period, modern textual criticism was born. This was the beginning of modern New Testament textual criticism , which over subsequent centuries would increasingly incorporate more and more manuscripts, in more languages i. Books that later formed the New Testament, like other Christian literature of the period, originated in a literary context that reveals relationships not only to other Christian writings, but also to Graeco-Roman and Jewish works. Of singular importance is the extensive use of and interaction with the Jewish Bible and what would become the Christian Old Testament.

Both implicit and explicit citations, as well as countless allusions, appear throughout the books of the New Testament, from the Gospels and Acts, to the Epistles, to the Apocalypse.

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The first translations usually called "versions" of the New Testament were made beginning already at the end of 2nd century. The earliest versions of the New Testament are the translations into the Syriac , Latin , and Coptic languages. Several Syriac translations were made and have come to us. Most of the Old Syriac, however, as well as the Philoxonian version have been lost. Tatian , the Assyrian, created the Diatessaron , a gospel harmony written in Syriac around AD and the earliest form of the gospel not only in Syriac but probably also in Armenian.

In the 19th century, manuscript evidence was discovered for an "Old Syriac" version of the four distinct i. These "separated" Syriac: da-Mepharreshe gospels, though old, have been shown to be later than the Diatessaron. The Old Syriac gospels are fragmentarily preserved in two manuscripts: the 5th-century Curetonian Syriac and the Sinaitic Syriac from the 4th or 5th century.