Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Written Gospel and the Epistle of Diognetus

In his excellent book "The Gospel as Manuscript," Chris Keith makes reference to a passage in The Epistle of Diognetus in the midst of a discussion over when the transition occurred from a "primarily" oral proclamation of the Jesus tradition to written texts.
"Often overlooked in this debate is the occurrence of εὐαγγέλια in the Epistle of Diognetus, where the term is paired with the law and the prophets and thus likely assumes a "book" meaning."
The passage Keith is referring to is the following;
"Ίhen the reverence of the law is praised in song, and the grace of the prophets is recognized, and the faith of the gospels is established, and the tradition of the apostles is preserved, and the joy of the church exults." (Diogn. 11.6)
"εῖ̓τα φόβος νόμου ἄδεται καὶ προφητῶν χάρις γιςώσκεται καὶ εὐαγγελίων πίστις ἵδρυται καὶ ἀποστόλων παράδοσις φυλάσσεται καὶ ἐκκλεησίας <χαρὰ> σκιρτᾷ." (Diogn. 11.6; Holmes, 714-715)
The date of composition for Diognetus is rather an open question, but somewhere around 150-225 is likely (according to Holmes, 689). Though proposals have been made that it was written by either Quadtratus (an early apologist, ca. 130 CE), or Polycarp (ca. 69-155 CE) (Holmes, 688-689). Either way the writing is generally accepted as being early and Diognetus appears to be referring to written material designated as "Gospels" (εὐαγγελίων) along side references to the Law and to the Prophets (obviously written material). 

Added to this, I find it interesting that in the very next chapter the author of Diognetus is referring to its audience as "listening" to the contents of the epistle being read out (Diogn. 12.1). Thus, the immediate context is referring to the reading out of texts.
Chris Keith, "The Gospel as Manuscript: An Early History of the Jesus Tradition as Material Artifact" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).

Michael W. Holmes, "The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations" (3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Long-Lasting Autographs of the Bible

I sometimes enjoy looking at older evangelical theological and apologetic arguments (from the 19th and early 20th centuries) concerning the veracity of the Christian scriptures (whether the Old Testament or the New Testament). I find it fascinating when I discover that many arguments for and criticisms against the trustworthiness of the various aspects of the scriptures are not as recent as I had once thought. One such example I discovered while flipping through the old "The Fundamentals of the Faith" volumes. These were originally published as ninety or so articles in a twelve-volume pamphlet series known as the "Fundamentals of the Faith," which appeared from 1910 to 1915. R. A. Torrey then collected these articles and republished them in a four-volume set in 1917 entitled, "The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth." Over one million volumes of these republished articles were distributed and they became widely influential.

In the fourth volume appears an article by A. C. Dixon, "The Scriptures" where the author first attempts to define the term "scriptures" and then proceeds to argue for the preservation of the Torah manuscript that Moses was commanded to write after his encounter with God (Exodus 17:14, Deutoronomy 31:9; Dixon, "The Scriptures," p. 264). I quote the relevant passage at length below,

"The Bible is literature written by the command of God, under the guidance of God, and preserved by the providential care of God. Moses commanded that the book of the law should be placed by the side of the Ark. No safer place could have been found, and the more I study the history of the Bible the more profoundly am I convinced that God has kept His book by the side of some ark all through the ages. As the Church has been under His care and protection, so has the Book.
It is not difficult for me to believe that the manuscript which Hilkiah found in the Temple [that Josiah commanded to read out] was the identical book which Moses wrote in the wilderness, and that this very manuscript was in the hands of Ezra on the pulpit of wood as he preached in the open air [Nehemia 8]. It is only one thousand years from Joshua to Josiah and only one hundred and seventy-five years from Josiah to Ezra. There are now in our libraries scores of manuscripts which we know to be over a thousand years old, and two or three which have certainly been preserved more than fourteen hundred years. With the kindly oriental climate and the care which the Jewish reverence for the book would naturally lead them to have, it is not at all improbable that the manuscript of Moses should have been preserved for more than a thousand years. And the history of the Bible from the time of Christ to the present confirms the proposition that it has been preserved by the providential care of God." (Dixon, "The Scriptures," p. 266)

Here Dixon uses the (modern) phenomena of manuscripts that are over a thousand years old surviving in libraries as support for his proposition that the physical autograph of the Torah from the hand of Moses must have also survived for over 1,000 years.

In it's basic sense, Dixon's argument is strikingly similar to other arguments put forward in more recent times with regard to the autographs of the New Testament. This arguement goes like this, if some ancient manuscripts could last X years, then Biblical autograph(s) must have lasted X years too.


A. C. Dixon, "The Scriptures," pages 264-272 in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (Volume IV. R. A Torrey, et. al. eds. 1917. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008)