Monday, August 12, 2013

Irenaeus, Apostolic Testimony, and the "Original Text"

Michael J. Kruger, is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (see his webpage here). In the recently publish work The Early Text of the New Testament, Dr. Kruger provided a chapter in which he examined early Christian attitudes towards reproducing their texts, that is, copying what they viewed as scripture. Kruger examined "how they would have understood the transmission and preservation of these texts, and how they would have responded to changes or alterations in the text" (Kruger, 63). In the chapter, several lines from the Old and New Testaments are discussed as well as the many statements in the writings of the Church fathers which might be viewed as warnings against altering the text while copying. On page 78, Kruger points to a colophon at the end of one of Irenaeus' letters which is mentioned by Eusebius in his Church history. Kruger only gives the colophon a passing mention. But what is interesting is that Eusebius happens to make mention of the colophon in context of a letter which Irenaeus wrote to a friend Florinus who lapsed into Valentinian Gnosticism (Hist. eccl. 5.20). I find it interesting that Eusebius appears to be connecting Irenaeus' appeal to eyewitness/apostolic testimony with altering the text during transmission. Therefore, it seems that Dr. Kruger's conclusions about early Christian attitude towards the copying of the text is shared, at least, by Eusebius. Here is the passage from Eusebius in full;
Irenaeus wrote several letters against those who were disturbing the sound ordinance of the Church at Rome. One of them was to Blastus On Schism; another to Florinus On Monarchy, or That God is not the Author of Evil. For Florinus seemed to be defending this opinion. And because he was being drawn away by the error of Valentinus, Irenæus wrote his work On the Ogdoad, in which he shows that he himself had been acquainted with the first successors of the apostles. 
2 At the close of the treatise we have found a most beautiful note which we are constrained to insert in this work. It runs as follows:
“I adjure thee who mayest copy this book, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by his glorious advent when he comes to judge the living and the dead, to compare what thou shalt write, and correct it carefully by this manuscript, and also to write this adjuration, and place it in the copy.” 
3 These things may be profitably read in his work, and related by us, that we may have those ancient and truly holy men as the best example of painstaking carefulness.
4 In the letter to Florinus, of which we have spoken, Irenæus mentions again his intimacy with Polycarp, saying:
“These doctrines, O Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the Church, and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them. These doctrines, not even the heretics outside of the Church, have ever dared to publish. These doctrines, the presbyters who were before us, and who were companions of the apostles, did not deliver to thee. 
5 “For when I was a boy, I saw thee in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation.
6 I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the ‘Word of life,' Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures.
7 These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God’s grace, I recall them faithfully. And I am able to bear witness before God that if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing, he would have cried out, and stopped his ears, and as was his custom, would have exclaimed, O good God, unto what times hast thou spared me that I should endure these things? And he would have fled from the place where, sitting or standing, he had heard such words.
8 And this can be shown plainly from the letters which he sent, either to the neighboring churches for their confirmation, or to some of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.”
Thus far Irenæus. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 2, vol. 1)
Kruger, Michael J. "Early Christian Attitudes Towards the Reproduction of Texts." Pages 63-80 in The Early Text of the New Testament. Edited by Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment