In a prior post, I responded to Brice Jones’ original critique of my chapter in The Early Text of the New Testament. He has taken a moment to respond on his website here. I want to thank Brice for this interesting and stimulating interaction. Certainly anyone should be thanked who is willing to read and interact with a $140 book! I will offer just a few final reflections here.
I only want to address the following paragraph where Brice summarizes his complaint:
The main difficulty that I find with your essay is your move from a few select passages that do not refer to attitudes toward reproduction of the NT text, to the conclusion that early Christians “as a whole” had a strict attitude to NT textual reproduction, and that only “some early Christians changed the NT text and altered its wording” (p. 79, emphasis mine). Christian “attitudes” toward textual reproduction is one thing, and what scribes did in actual practice is another. I would argue that the NT manuscripts themselves offer a completely different story, even if we do have a handful of statements to the contrary.
Several comments about this statement should be made:
1. Brice says that I base my conclusions about early Christian attitudes to textual reproduction on “a few select passages that do not refer to attitudes toward the reproduction of the NT text.” But, this is simply not the case. My essay dealt with more passages than just the Galatians and Barnabas texts he contends. What of Dionysius of Corinth? Irenaeus? The anonymous author cited by Eusebius? These all deal directly with the NT text. But, there is a bigger issue here. Brice cannot seem to grasp the implicit implications of some of the passages I addressed. For example, returning again to Gal 3:15, I readily acknowledged that this passage did not address a NT text directly. But, it is relevant for the point of the essay because it addresses Christian attitudes to the textual reproduction of Scripture. How can it then be so easily dismissed?
2. Brice complains that I move from these select historical examples to conclusions about what Christianity “as a whole” might have been like. But, last time I checked, that it was historical study inevitably must do. We always have limited historical examples from which we try to map out the larger picture. And my essay is particularly limited because I restricted my time frame to before c.200 (a point which should be remembered). Of course, such conclusions should be tentative and drawn with caution due to the limited nature of the evidence, but that is precisely what I said repeatedly throughout the essay.
In Brice’s rebuttal, he acknowledged that I expressed appropriate caution on p.71 after the section on whether some Christians viewed some NT books as Scripture. But then Brice says: “I would argue, as most do, that we must use the same caution when assessing attitudes about NT textual reproduction.” But I did this on p.79! There I said: “It is difficult to know whether this testimony is representative of early Christianity as a whole.” Again, I am not sure how this could have been more plainly stated.
3. Finally, Brice states that “Christian ‘attitudes’ toward textual reproduction is one thing, and what scribes did in actual practice is another. I would argue that the NT manuscripts themselves offer a completely different story, even if we do have a handful of statements to the contrary.” But, this critique misses the whole point of my essay. I argued in the opening paragraphs that we can learn something about early Christian attitudes toward textual reproduction from the manuscripts themselves. And I acknowledged in the opening paragraphs that many manuscripts exhibit significant scribal alterations. But, this fact does not mean we should not consider what early Christians actually said about textual reproduction. And my essay was only dealing with the latter. The issue of how we harmonize what Christians said about textual reproduction, and how they actually did textual reproduction is a complex matter. But both should inform our understanding of the process of textual reproduction.
Thanks again to Brice for his interaction with the book. The clarifications I have offered above show, I think, that our two positions are much closer than they might appear at first glance.