Sunday, October 18, 2020

Paul's Preaching of God's Word and the Corinthian Community



In a recent issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament is published a new article which is freely available as Open Access.

Timothy Mitchell, “Exposing Textual Corruption: Community as a Stabilizing Aspect in the Circulation of the New Testament Writings during the Greco-Roman Era.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 43. 2 (December 2020): 266–298.

In this paper I look at the publication and distribution practices of the first few centuries of the Christian era. I argue that because books were copied and circulated primarily through social networks in a community, this naturally created an environment where any macro-level changes to the text, literary theft, and plagiarism of these writings was exposed through these same social networks.

In the article I give examples of this phenomena from pagan and Christian sources. Some of the examples are taken from the New Testament. Though these examples from the New Testament discuss communities of Christians that are in a position to expose doctrinal corruption rather than being explicit references to revealing textual corruption. 

One such example that I did not include in the article is found in the Christian Community of Corinth. Paul wrote to the Corinthian community concerning his ministry of preaching and teaching;

"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:1-2; ESV)

Here Paul is declaring that he did not twist or "tamper" with God's word. They simply declared the truth and this was done "to everyone's conscience in the sight of God." Because he taught openly the word of God, the community could see for themselves that he was not twisting God's word.

Paul is here referring most likely to the "exegetical" or "interpretational" tampering of God's word and not to the physical tampering of their copies of the scriptures. This same community would be able, in the same way, to detect where Paul would tamper with the "text" if his ministry ever attempted to do so.

13 comments:

  1. What are the implications for the synoptic problem? Did Matthew's use/theft/plagiarism of Mark occur before the networks were established?

    Was Gal 3:28 well known among the early Christians? Would that explain why it has not suffered much textual corruption by misogynists, compared to other texts?

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    1. Richard, thank you for your comment. Because of the nature of publication, the ntworks would have been immediately present and would have immediately been operaring inadvertantly as checks on macro-level changez. I think that it is pretty clear that the ancients did not think that the Gospels were plagiarizing off of each other. I will quote Frederick Wisse, "To the ancient reader the Gospels of Matthew and Luke did not look like interpolated versions of the Gospel of Mark. The obviously different beginnings and endings of these Gospels were sufficient indication that they were distinct texts." ("The Nature and Purpose of Reactional Changes in Early Christian Texts" in 'Gospel Traditions in the Secons Century: Origins, Recensions, Text, and Transmission' [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989], page 42)

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    2. As far as Galatians 3:28, I think that the presense of this verse in all traditions presses hard against the thesis that there were misogynistic scribal changes in the early stages of transmission of the New Testament writings.

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    3. How do you define "early stages"?

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    4. So, if I have understood you correctly, you are not saying that macro-level changes did not happen, but only that macro-level changes that were considered unacceptable were generally prevented. Fair enough. But if Matthew's use of Mark was acceptable, what changes would have been considered unacceptable, and how can we know? Did it just come down to whether the reader agreed with the resulting text?

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    5. Richard, thank you for your engagement here. I do believe macro-level changes did occur because there was no way to prevent this frim happenening. I do think that once these macro-level changes did occur they were exposed within the community. Once exposed, then these macro-level changes would have less of a chance of these changes being reproduced.
      The standard of what constitutes a change would be any change that deviated from what the author wrote.

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  2. "Early stages" = first generation of readers and copyists and following in the second and third centuries

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  3. My forthcoming CBQ article shows that misogynist variants are widespread and are in P46, which dates from the second or third century.

    Am I right in thinking that your argument concerns macro changes to documents rather than forging of documents or destruction (or neglect) of documents?

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    1. My article specifically adresses macro level changes to texts.

      I'm not sure which variants in P46 you aregue are misogynistically motivated, but likely they deal mainly with readings at the word or sentence level. I woild say that fluidity in the word or sentence level was expected (though no alteration from the exemplar was the goal). However, if these word or sentence changes in the document altered the meaming in a real way, I think that this would have also met with some push back by the community.

      As far as forgeries, I do make mention of potential Pauline forgeries in a footnote.

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  4. So, since those who wanted to change scripture were often deterred by the fear of being exposed, we should expect them to show a preference for making textual variants that they could disguise as scribal slips, if found out. This means that when we see a variant that could be explained by a skip of the eye, for example, we should not rush to the conclusion that it was an innocent mistake. For example, it is possible that a scribe behind Alexandrinus omitted 1 Cor 16:19 in its entirety, rather than omitting just the name Prisca, so that he could claim that it was an eye skip, if challenged.

    You differentiate between macro level changes and micro level changes, but shouldn't we rather distinguish between changes that are easily exposed (such as most macro level changes that one could imagine, and micro-level changes to well known passages); and changes that were not easily exposed as frauds (including addition of whole letters to the collection of Paul's letters, and changes that could be disguised as scribal slips, and incorporation of marginal notes).

    Correct me if I misrepresent you, but you seem to be arguing. 1) We know of frauds that were exposed (e.g. Acts of Paul), so there was a risk of being exposed, so 2) frauds would have been deterred by the risk of being exposed, therefore 3) frauds were rare. There is a problem with this logic. There must have been a reasonable chance of getting away with it, otherwise the forgers would not have taken the risk. The fact that we know of exposed frauds increases the probability that there are frauds that were never exposed. The PE are such cases, and I would argue Colossians too.

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    1. Thanks for the engagement Richard. The PE is not a good example because it has been discussed from very early on and innthe margins of many MSS that contain it that the PE may be an addition, or that some MSS don't cobtain it. The LE of Mark is another example. This is exactly my point. In the paper, I actually define what I am referring to with macro-level changes.

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