Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Are the New Testament Autographs?

I am privileged to have an article published in the June issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society;

"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.

The abstract reads;

"This article explores the definition of the NT "autographs" as articulated in various inerrancy doctrinal statements. It begins by sketching the history of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the "autographs," followed by some modern criticisms of the doctrine. Greco-Roman publication composition and publication practices are surveyed by investigating three figures from the beginning of the Roman Imperial age through to its height: Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen. Four extant examples of ancient papyrus "autographs" are examined, illustrating the draft and rewriting stages of composition. After analyzing Greco-Roman publication, a definition is proposed: in reference to the NT, the "autographs," as often discussed in biblical inerrancy doctrinal statements, should be defined as the completed authorial work which was released by the author for circulation and copying, not earlier draft versions or layers of composition."

A significant portion of the article focuses on select quotations from the letters and writings of Cicero, Pliny, and Galen illustrating that the writing process was often a long process which involved writing and rewriting. Friends and associates, scribes, and personal secretaries would often be a part of the editing process as well. All the while it was expected that these early draft stages of composition would not circulate beyond the immediate circle of associates who were offering feedback to these initial stages of composition. The key event that signaled the end of this process was the releasing of the work, by the author, for general circulation by the author's circle of acquaintances.
I also bring into the discussion a few extant examples of papyrus autographs. This is merely to illustrate that, usually, early stages of the writing process were characterized by rewriting, editing, deletions, and corrections. These papyrus copies were obviously not meant for wider circulation because they were incomplete. Of course, the event that would signal the completion of the composition process would be the releasing of the document for circulation by the author's associates.
Therefore, I think that, in light of this practice, the doctrinal statements should define the New Testament "autographs" in the same manner, that is, the completed form of the New Testament writings that were released for circulation.

Valentin de Boulogne, Apostle Paul Writing


  1. Thank you for generously sharing your paper! Jeannie Koh.

  2. Timothy,
    Well written and I would add, well argued! This very topic, what is the autograph or inspired text, and its lack of precision in definition that often causes confusion when authors seem to use it one way in a work and then in the same work another.
    I hope that your article is widely read and used.
    The article has sharpened my understanding. Thank you!


    1. Tim,
      Thank you for your feedback, and for your kind comments! I am very pleased that the article was useful for you in clarifying the topic of the autograph. Certainly much more could be said and I had to leave a lot of loose ends in the conclusion. The paper was just getting too long, nearly 11,000 words! Anyways, thank you for reading the article!