Saturday, April 9, 2022

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Ignatius, Polycarp, and the Pauline Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy

Page from Codex H (015) at 1 Tim 2.2-6 (6th Century)

I recently read an older article in the academic journal Vigiliae Christianae that argues for Polycarp's belief that 1 and 2 Timothy were written by Paul. 

Kenneth Berding, "Polycarp of Smyrna's View of the Authorship of 1 and 2 Timothy," Vigiliae Christianae 53.4 (Nov., 1999): 349-360.

Here is the conclusion of the article as a summary.

"This paper has sought to demonstrate that there is a marked tendency in Polycarp's letter to the Philippians to cluster Pauline citations and allusions in the three passages in which he mentions the name of Paul. This indicates that Polycarp (consciously or unconsciously) considered the references to be Pauline. In addition, the first cluster contains a phrase from 1 Tim 6:10 followed by one from 1 Tim 6:7. The second cluster contains a phrase from 2 Tim 4:10. The most plausible conclusion which can be drawn is that Polycarp considered these also to be Pauline. If Harrison (and much of modern scholarship) is correct in linking Titus to 1 and 2 Timothy, Polycarp has become the earliest external witness to the belief in the early church that Paul was the author of the Pastoral Epistles." (pg 360).

I find the collective evidence presented as pretty persuasive. In support of this early attestation, it appears that Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Ephesian church, may have had 1 and 2 Timothy in view when he made a passing reference to Paul.

"You are the highway of those who are being killed for God's sake; you are fellow initiates of Paul, who as sanctified, who was approved, who was deservedly blessed─may I be found in his footsteps when I reach God!─who in every letter remembers you in Christ Jesus." (Ign. Eph. 12.2)

Which letters may Ignatius be referring to here? Obviously, it is likely he is referring to the New Testament writing, Ephesians. However, this is only one letter, why does he mention "every letter" (πάση επιστολη), which seems to be referring to every letter in the Pauline corpus? Most commentators of Ignatius see this reference as hyperbole. Paul mentions the Ephesian Christians in only four of his letters, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and first and second Timothy (pg 163-164).

Perhaps another solution is that Ignatius is referring to letters that were written to the Ephesian Church directly. This would include of course Ephesians, but also 1 and 2 Timothy as well for Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to minister and instruct the Christians in the city (1 Tim 1:3). Thus it might be that once Timothy received the letter, he read it out to the Church there. If this is what Ignatius is referring to (granted this is speculative) then Ignatius is attributing Pauline authorship to the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy.


Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Deconstructing New Testament Autographs

I only just recently learned of Dr. Jamin Andreas Hübner, professor of economics at the University of the People, and a Research Fellow for the Center of Faith and Human Flourishing at LCC International University, Klaipėda, Lithuania. One of the topics that Hübner's research engages with is Christian "fundamentalism." I had not known or engaged with Hübner before I came across a tweet that he made interacting with my 2016 JETS article "What are the NT Autographs?" He tweeted that 
"Tim Mitchell in JETS 59.2 (2016) - the journal by ETS (that requires member[s] to be inerrantist), attempts to patch up these problems by bestowing Divinity/perfection to the "released" autograph, not the *original* original autographs, which doesn't solve problems..."
My article Hübner was referencing was this one,
"What are the NT Autographs? An Examination of the Doctrine of Inspiration and Inerrancy in Light of Greco-Roman Publication." JETS 59/2 (June 2016): 287-308.
Intrigued and delighted by his engagement with my article, I did some more digging and learned that he had recently written a book in which he fleshes out his arguments against an inspired "inerrant" autograph.

Hübner's interaction with inerrancy and autographs is found on pages 71-73, the screen shot of each page I include below.

I too, like Hübner struggled with the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. This curiosity (some would call doubt) is what initially drove me into the field of New Testament textual criticism. Some of these issues that I had with inerrancy didn't begin to iron out in my mind until I began to gain a better grasp of the ways in which books were copied and circulated in the first few centuries of the Christian era. It was these insights that I culled together in the JETS article. After publication, I realized a few issues with the definitions my JETS article. One of which Hübner points out, without maybe realizing it. He fails to distinguish between the autographs as "text" and the autograph as "physical document."
I realized that I was not as clear on this distinction in my JETS article, and I attempted to flesh this out better in another article which was published recently.

Where Inspiration is Found: Putting the New Testament Autographs in Context,” in Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 24.3 (Fall 2020): 83-101.
In this article I wrote concerning the "autograph."
"the term “autograph” is not very helpful in describing the multifaceted aspects of divine inspiration and the composition of the NT writings, because at every phase of the draft stages, the document(s) would technically be “autographs.” Yet this is clearly not what is meant by “autograph” in doctrinal statements. Any definition of the original text, or “autograph,” must take these aspects into consideration." (pg. 92)
I continue on,
"Therefore, in reference to the NT, the “autograph,” as often discussed by apologists, theologians, and doctrinal statements, should be defined as the text of the completed authorial work the moment in which it was released by the author for circulation and copying, not earlier draft versions or layers of composition." (pg. 96)
Finally, I wrote,
"Certainly, the physical properties of the autograph (whether papyrus, parchment, wax or wooden tablet, etc.) helped to shape the text, however, it is the text—the wording—that was inspired, not the physical medium of the material autograph. Passages in the scriptures, such as Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonian 5:27, and 1 Timothy 4:13, imply a copying and distributing process. For Paul, addressing these congregations, it was imperative that the recipients received the text of the epistle, not the original physical material autograph penned by the sender of the letter." (pgs. 96-97)
Though my comments might not address Hübner's concerns over the issues of an inspired autograph, it is my hope that they do. Hopefully he might engage with my arguments more fully in the future.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Pliny the Younger: A Written Work as a Lasting Monument

In the midst of praising his friend Octavius's excellent poetical works, Pliny urged him to not delay the publication of his friend's work. The reasons were twofold. 
First, some of his verses had already begun to circulate without Octavius's consent. Accidental and unwanted publication of an author's unfinished writings often occurred in antiquity. In response, Pliny urged Octavius to quickly publish his completed writing so that those pre-circulating verses could then be claimed as his own.
Second, Pliny believed that completing and publishing a written piece would be a lasting monument to the author's fame. The work would far outlive the author's life and ensure their memory lived on in those who read the book.
"What an indolent fellow you are, or perhaps I should say how hard-hearted you are and almost cruel to keep back so long such splendid volumes of verse! How long will you deprive yourself of the chorus of praise that awaits you, and us of the pleasure of reading them? Do let them be borne on the lips of men and circulate through all the wide regions where the Roman tongue is spoken. People have long been eagerly looking forward to your publishing them, and you really ought not to cheat and disappoint them any longer. Some of your verses have become known, and - no thanks to you - have broken down the barriers you set round them, and unless you rescue them and include them in the main body of your work they will one day, like vagrant slaves, find someone else to claim the ownership of them. Don't lose sight of the fact that you are but mortal, and that you can only defend yourself from being forgotten by such a monument as this: all other titles to fame are fragile and perishable, and come to a sudden end as soon as the breath is out of your body. . . . However, as to publishing, do as you please, but at least give some public readings, in order to stir you on to publishing, and that you may at length see how pleased people will be to hear you, as I have for a long time been bold enough to anticipate on your account. For I picture to myself what a run there will be to hear you, how they will admire your work, what applause is in store for you, and what a hush of attention." (Ep. 2.10)
I find it fascinating that in the same letter (Ep. 2.10) Pliny both admits to the volatility of ancient publication (in that someone may plagiarize Octavius's work) and proclaims that a published writing would be akin to a great monument for the author, far outliving them and ensuring the author's memory lived on into the future.

This idea of a written piece being a part of the author's lasting fame Pliny expounded upon previously. In an earlier letter to his friend Caninius Rufus, he urged him to drop everything and get to writing.
"But really it is time that you passed on your unimportant and petty duties for others to look after and buried yourself among your books in that secluded yet beautiful retreat. Make this at once the business and the leisure of your life, your occupation and your rest; let your waking hours be spent among your books, and your hours of sleep as well. Mould something, hammer out something that shall be known as yours for all time. Your other property will find a succession of heirs when you are gone; what I speak of will continue yours for ever - if once it begins to be. I know the capacity and inventive wit that I am spurring on. You have only to think of yourself as the able man others will think you when you have realised your ability. Farewell." (Ep. 1.3)
It is obvious that Pliny was fully aware of the potential for copyist errors and plagiarism, with regard to ancient publication practices. Nevertheless, Pliny fully expected that a book would continue to be considered the author's own work and live on into posterity. This is because Pliny himself was intimately familiar with written works that had been penned hundreds of years before his time.
It is good to remember this ancient understanding and tension between the problems inherent in ancient publication and the glory and fame a written work could give the author long into the future. Especially when we approach the practice of textual criticism of the New Testament. Even though it may be difficult for modern textual critics to discern between later textual changes and the author's intended words. The response should not be to then assume that there was no completed (whether intentional or otherwise) version of the text that the author intended. This is one of the concluding arguments that I make at the end of one of my published articles,
"Though the modern textual critic may have difficulty discerning between the authorial text and later additions and corruptions made to the text after the document began to circulate, this does not mean that the ancients did not make these distinctions or that the modern textual critic should not" (Mitchell, "Exposing Textual Corruption," pg. 290)
English translation of Pliny's Letters are by J.B. Firth,

"Exposing Textual Corruption: Community as a Stabilizing Aspect in the Circulation of the New Testament writings during the Greco-Roman Era." JSNT 43.2 (December 2020): 266-298.

See also my comments on page 298 of,

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Cicero On Repairing His Damaged Books

Repairing a loose fragment of P.Oxy 3203 using small ‘tabs’ applied with tweezers.
Image from the British Museum Blog
Faith after the pharaohs: Egyptian papyri conservation - British Museum Blog

I have written elsewhere of the various circumstances that could shorten the useful life of ancient books (See Here). Not only could books be outright destroyed, ancient documents could be damaged by use and environment to such an extend as to be almost unusable (See Previous Post Here). Cicero (106 BCE-43 BCE), was sent into exile to Thessalonica by a law introduced by Publius Clodius Pulcher. In his absence, Cicero's library had been damaged, dispersed, and a portion of it possibly destroyed (Houston, 218). Upon his return from exile, he began to re-assemble and repair his library. In order to do this, Cicero aquired the services of the Greek Scholar Tyrannio of Amisus. Cicero also turned to his friend Atticus, asking him to send slaves that could repair damaged papyrus and parchment, and to attach titles to rolls.

"It will be delightful if you come to see us here. You will find that Tyrannio has made a wonderfully good arrangement of my books, the remains of which are better than I had expected. Still, I wish you would send me a couple of your library slaves for Tyrannio to employ as gluers, and in other subordinate work, and tell them to get some fine parchment to make title-pieces, which you Greeks, I think, call "sillybi." But all this is only if not inconvenient to you. In any case, be sure you come yourself, if you can halt for a while in such a place, and can persuade Pilia to accompany you. For that is only fair, and Tullia is anxious that she should come. My word! You have purchased a fine troop! Your gladiators, I am told, fight superbly. If you had chosen to let them out you would have cleared your expenses by the last two spectacles. But we will talk about this later on. Be sure to come, and, as you love me, see about the library slaves." (Att. 4.4b)
From this interchange it can be seen that the care of a library in antiquity took a considerable amount of work by scholars and slaves alike. It goes to show how precious and valuable it is that we have so many manuscripts that have survived (in various states of completion) from antiquity.

English translation of Cicero's letter to Atticus by Evelyn Shuckburgh
Letters to Atticus/4.4b - Wikisource, the free online library

Houston, George W. Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014)

Monday, December 6, 2021

Greco-Roman Education and Textual Criticism

Raffaella Cribiore is Professor at New York University and specializes in ancient Greco-Roman education, papyrology, and Greek rhetoric among other specialties. She has written several books on these topics, several of which are "must-reads" for anyone interested in understanding the wider culture in which early Christian book culture arose, particularly her works related to Greco-Roman education more broadly. Two of these books are;

"Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

"Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Princeton" (NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005).

I have learned so much from Cribiore's work and was excited when I discovered that she had been interviewed on an episode of one of my favorite Podcasts, Ancient Greece Declassified. Here is the link to the interview.

Ancient Greece Declassified: 11 Caves and Classrooms w/ Raffaella Cribiore (

There were many interesting insights that Cribiore gave, but one that really resonated with my own research was her emphasis on the broadly defined "universality" of Greco-Roman education across the Roman Empire. Along with this, I list out several other interesting insight from the interview below;

1) Education from Hellenistic to the late antique period was remarkably uniform. Someone from Syria, to Egypt, to Rome would have been educated in a similar manner and with a similar body of literature.

2) Much more people attended at least the first tier of education than is often realized by scholars more broadly. 

3) At least at the lowest levels, Education was available to girls as well as boys.

These details from the ancient world help to shine a light on early Christian reading and scribal culture. In an environment where a text was read out and copied within a social network, many Christians would be in a position to engage with these texts at various levels, and with some uniformity across the Empire. This would lead to a circumstance in which any "macrolevel" changes to a text in circulation would be noticed by the community engaging with these same texts. I make this argument in my JSNT article,

"Exposing Textual Corruption: Community as a Stabilizing Aspect in the Circulation of the New Testament writings during the Greco-Roman Era." JSNT 43.2 (December 2020): 266-298.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Upcoming Event, Text and Manuscript Conference: Pen, Print, and Pixels

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has launched a new biannual Text and Manuscript Conference. Executive Director Daniel Wallace announced,

"This conference will be held on even-numbered years as a North American reflection of the Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, which is itself held on odd-numbered years in the United Kingdom."
The inaugural conference is slated for May 19th - 20th, 2022 and is themed Pen, Print, and Pixels. Follow the hyperlink, or go to the following link,

There is a great line-up of main speakers.

Hugh Houghton
Kathleen Maxwell
Holger Strutwolf
Dirk Yongkind
Jan Krans

There is also a great selection of breakout session speakers.

Keith Elliot
Jeremiah Coogan
Juan Hernandez
Edgar Ebojo
Craig Evans
Georgi Parpulov
Christian Askeland
Timothy Mitchell
Peter Montro
Ryan Griffin
William Warren
Grant Edwards
James Prothro

I don't know what all of the session speakers will be presenting on, but my own presentation will be the following;

Exposing Textual Corruption in the Wider Circulation of the New Testament Writings During the Greco-Roman Era

In a recent publication I argued that the primary means by which books were circulated was through social networks. A natural consequence of this was that macro-level changes (to use the terminology of Michael W. Holmes) to a text within circulation would become known within that same community.
In this paper I will present further evidence that the avenues for exposing textual corruption were present even when a writing circulated more broadly. In the wider Greco-Roman culture, literature would often be circulated through booksellers allowing the work to be accessed by more extensive reading communities farther removed from the author(s) and their followers. References from Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen will be explored.
In the case of the New Testament writings, evidence for those outside of the Christian community having contact with and reading scriptural books will be examined. Figures such as Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and many others will be explored.
I will be arguing from this evidence that these wider pathways of book distribution also presented opportunities for exposing the macro-level corruption of texts in circulation, specifically with regard to the New Testament writings.